Shape

This is the first year I’m actually going to miss winter. Weird, right? Anyone who knows me knows I am spring and summer obsessed.

But when I put on my infinity scarf, I feel secure. My otherwise naked, defenseless neck is protected. No one can strangle me when it’s all covered up. Better yet, when I’m under wraps, nobody can see the triple chins or that annoying, dangling crepe curtain beneath them.

When I put on my long, pale blue cardigan, I feel relaxed and casual. It’s like wearing my bathrobe out in public. A way to channel my inner Dude from The Big Lebowski. He is me, me are we, he is she, and we are all together. Drinking white Russians forever.

When I put on my hat, I feel cute. Especially the one with raccoon ears and black button eyes on top. Wearing silly hats encourages people to consider me a friendly stranger. Just like when I had pugs. Conversation starters, those little guys were. Now I use ridiculous headwear to achieve the same ends.

When I put on my high-heeled shoes, I feel tall and powerful. I like to prance around in them. I go for wedges rather than stilettos, for safety’s sake. But I love how architectural footwear makes my calves and ankles look. Strong and shapely, and yet, still potentially vulnerable. Hmm. Who is that for?

When I dressed up in my 20s, it was about the honey trap. The dimples, the beachy hair, the innocent look, I mastered them all. Little black dress, fishnet stockings, fused glass choker around my neck, hello ‘90s! Doc Marten’s for strength, short skirts for suggestibility. Aqua contact lenses to bring out my deep-set, gray-blue eyes. No way would I wear my glasses on a Friday night out on the prowl. They made me look too smart. I preferred being lusted after, and underestimated.

When I dress up now, it’s no longer about cultivating the male gaze. It’s something I do for me, and for other women, now. Receiving an honest compliment from someone who has little to no interest in sleeping with me makes my day these days. While I still catch myself playing the coquette, it’s my bathroom mirror that flirts back.

When my sweetheart Jason puts on his tie each morning, even on weekends, I know why he does it. It’s his way of showing respect for others. Sometimes it’s also for the catcalls he gets from ladies of a… certain… insobriety. That’s okay. I’m not the jealous type. Holding hands in public with my habitually overdressed boyfriend fills me with pride.

Jason and I do like our dress-up parties. We’re fans of historical re-creation, Edwardian picnics and Vampire cotillions. We’ve made the Dickens Christmas Faire a tradition, and we’ve gone all-out for Halloween. We do draw the line at full-on furry costumes and the Renaissance Faire. Not because we think we’re too good for that, we just don’t like getting sweaty.

But I love that we live in an area brimming with semi-socially-acceptable opportunities for getting one’s cosplay on. And I love seeing kids dressed up like badass princess ninjas and clownfishes, even when they’re just going to Trader Joe’s. Such freedom!

Let’s not forget that clothing is an extremely powerful tool. It can be held up as a shield, or used as a weapon. It shapes and reinforces cultural identity. Sometimes that identity is created by an individual for herself, other times it’s socially influenced or legislatively enforced upon her.

Sadly, I come up empty when I try to think of a culture that doesn’t attempt to control women through clothing. Bound feet yesterday, bunions and tendonitis and twisted ankles today. Corsets, crinolines, too-small pockets in women’s jeans, burkas with zippers over the mouth, pencil skirts, thong underwear. What does it all mean?

Can the reclamation of oppressive clothing be as empowering as the reclamation of an oppressive word? Costume is at its most meaningful when marking a changing season in one year, or in one’s life. I want to support a culture where people of any gender or age can dress however they choose, opting for what’s right for them in the moment, for the occasion.

When we go out into the world, how we dress communicates volumes to others. On any given day, our wish may be to feel safe, comfortable, friendly, or sexy. I believe we all crave inclusion and respect, so I find it’s helpful to model behavior I wish to receive in return. It’s just good manners.