Wednesday, 28 January 2009


I've written about clothes before, but it's a subject that fascinates me. The whole thing is to do with costume. Do people ever dress anything other than aspirationally? Aren't you, whatever you put on, choosing how the rest of the world is to perceive you? If I'm wearing old tracksuit bottoms and ancient t-shirts for sitting around at home, it's because I want to feel comfortable and not on show and the clothes underline that to me and anyone else around. The removal of my public self with the removal of my public clothes. I can be much freer, dressed in soft tracksuits that I've had for half my life. People who see me dressed like that, I have to be incredibly comfortable with, because I have to trust them not to judge the clothes. It's like people seeing you in your pyjamas. I do on occasion go to the supermarket or whatever dressed in the more presentable version of lying around the house clothes, but in a way, I'm still lying around the house - it's still not public, at some level. The amount I feel on show to some degree correlates with how much discomfort I'm willing to put up with, I suppose. I'm the least 'dressy' at work (aside from at home), always in ancient trainers and often quite baggy jeans and t-shirts. I would dress up even more than that to go to the ADC or wherever, unless what I'm doing when I get there is a get-in. I don't wear hoodies to work, or tops that are definitely designed for sport, but that's about my only concession. I'm not on show at work, much. And it depends on my mood. I don't usually have the energy to put the effort in. The more tired or fed up or stressed I am, the less colourful or considered is what I wear. Probably the less low cut, too. I don't want to attract notice in any way when I feel like that, and the easiest way is to dress as dully as possible, I guess. If I'm going out or going somewhere or going to see someone or am going to be in a situation about which I'm not entirely comfortable, I will dress up. Lower cut tops, skirts, boots, colours, scarves, jewellery. It's hard to unpick why those things should make me feel more confident. Something about the clothes doing some of the talking for you, or distracting from the actual impression someone might get if they had access to the unshielded character underneath. Glamour in the archaic sense, I suppose, though I sort of hope to be subtle about it.

But all of these aspects of clothing make nudity incredibly intimate. I suppose that's why we as a society find it quite so sexy, beyond the crass 'I can see your BITS' routine. Because being naked with someone is access to their most private self, without a projection or any attempt to mislead. That's not about sex, though I suppose when there are people you feel that intimate with, sex is a progression. But being naked, in itself, is a big deal. Vulnerable, snails without shells, a declaration of trust. Even being naked alone, for something other than washing, is significant. Isn't it? Something about being able to look at oneself and know oneself. Symbolic only, I think, but not nothing. I suppose plastic surgery would ruin the ability to be naked in this sense - you would never be able to take off the image. I have no desire for tattoos or surgery, and am uncomfortable about the idea of dying my hair, in a way. Though the hair-dying is mostly to do with the fact that my hair is fragile enough without soaking it in chemicals. Something about the recognition of self.


  1. It has clearly been too long since you've worn a uniform... And I'm not talking about that nurses' uniform hiding in the back of the closet. I've worn a uniform of one description or another for at least half of my life. Maybe longer. I've little choice in the cuts, colours and styles until very recently. and even now I don't exactly have a choice unless I want to spend money on what I can get for free from work. The uniform becomes an extension of myself on some level. I'll put on a clean, bright white jacket for the customers, which feeds a bit into your idea of dressing aspirationally, but it's not my aspiration so much it is the customers' expectation.

    The perception of someone in uniform is preset before that person even gets dressed in the morning. maybe that's why nurses and schoolgirls are so sexy for males: the subjection to authority or taking of innocence. Chefs aren't sexy. We are a dirty, smelly lot of bottom dwellers. But, apparently, some people perceive us that way. I knew a guy at school who insisted his girlfriend (also a chef) call him chef during sex. this might have something to do with authority rather than chefs in a student and faculty population of nearly 3000 where only instructors were "Chef". "F*ck me, Chef!" funny. try saying it out loud. aside... It's not what I think about when I tie my apron strings. If anything, I think that the clothes hide who I am personally behind what I do professionally.

    so a long winded answer to your first question: "Do people ever dress anything other than aspirationally?" The world perceives, but I'm not making a choice in how.

    I really should just take up my own post about this... this is one of those things I think about myself, rather often. maybe in a bit... Clothes first.

  2. You are completely right. I hadn't factored uniform in, though I wore one from the ages of 4 to the age of 17 and occasionally beyond that. Even men in suits get some level of personal expression into their outfits. But schoolgirls spend the WHOLE time finding ways of subverting the uniform to achieve some level of individuality - it's part of the deal. Because when you're all dressed the same it's the tiny things that notice. But a schoolgirl's world is entirely made up of other girls in uniform, so it's not the same thing - everybody is in the same boat with what they wear. It's amazing the subtlety of expression that can be found in whether or not the skirt is rolled up, how the hair is tied back, whether the sleeves of the jumper are ripped. So while the perception is set, there are still some subtleties open, but the audience for them is attuned to notice them. I kind of liked school uniform in a way, I didn't have to think about it, it wasn't enormously unflattering if you were careful, and it was quite comfortable. And I could put as much or as little effort as I liked into hiding jewellery from the teachers and tying my hair differently. This was usually very little, though I did conscientiously rip holes in the cuffs of all of my jumpers (I liked the thumb hooks - I still have the least dog-earred of those jumpers, and most of the school sports kit (not the games skirts, they were bum-skimming)).

    I appreciate that with what you do it's probably different, in that a lot of the people who might make judgements are not necessarily also in uniform. I bet there are still subtleties between the chefs, though. Do boys think like this? I think they probably do. Hmm.

    Your clothes are still the costume for a role, though, even if the role you are playing is put on from outside rather than coming from inside. How much of a difference is that from what I was talking about? Who are you when you've put that on? Are you someone different? 'Different' isn't the right word, but doesn't putting on the clothes give you a different focus? Dressing for a purpose helps embody the purpose and changes how one thinks in some way. Or that's my theory. The times I've worn uniform since school, mostly for waitressing, I've always found it quite interesting to peer out from my eyes behind the black and white obedience my clothes put on me in the eyes of my customers. It's dehumanising on one level, because you cease to be more than what your clothes declare you to be, but it somehow frees up certain aspects of though, behind the sheild of the clothes.

    Would be interested to read your thoughts. I won't ask you what clothes you actually opted for after all of this conversation though, mostly because I have a fair idea (:-P), but also because I would be sitting trying to work out the symbolism in an entirely over-worked way.

  3. jeans and the ratty blue hoodie. the one with the full frontal pocket- it's warmer and the other one's dirty. "pirate's life for me" t-shirt because it was on the top of the pile. Thinking uniform. I'll change to that blasted red sweater when I leave the house because it's the "leaving the house" uniform. I'm not sure there's all that much symbolism there... but is it what you expected?

  4. More or less exactly. Particularly if they're your painty jeans. Hat? And there is symbolism, there always was.