Fashion & I: Where It All Began
I don’t have the greatest track record with dressing up. I remember being invited to a fancy dress party as a child and having to make do with a frowsy Rupert the Bear outfit from the creepy costume shop down the road- my Mom had left things to the eleventh hour. Everyone who came up to me at that party had no idea who I was supposed to be. It didn’t help that I’d ditched the furry ears on the way in, but they really did stink! I couldn’t stay mad at Mom for too long though. The truth is, when I caught a look at my reflection in the window of the Ring O’ Bells pub, I saw that the red jumper, yellow tartan trousers and matching tartan scarf actually banged. Rupert who? In my mind, I didn’t need to be a bear, I looked damned good. I didn’t need to give the costume back either, but in the end, I had no choice.
Not too long after the Rupert Bear fiasco, I fashioned a graduation cap out of a cereal box - complete with silver tassels nicked from the Christmas tree - and a gown out of a bin liner, with cut-outs for my arms and neck. In a Crufts-like procession, I marched around the junior school hall, staring all the while at our deputy head teacher, willing him to pick me out of the crowd. In the final moments of the parade, he tapped me on the top of my hat and told me to take my place on the stage with the rest of the winners. Looking back, I reckon he must have done it out of pity - I either looked really, really tragic, or as though I’d combust if I wasn’t crowned a winner.
There are many other cases of DIY disasters in my sartorial history, but the earlier ones are the funniest. Like the time I wrote ‘Pink Ladies’ on the back of my denim jacket with Fluffits pens (remember those?) and forgot to use the hairdryer to gain the full effect. Or when I cut my leggings just below the knee to look like the girls from Grease 2, but couldn’t get both legs to match up no matter how hard I tried. I ended up with cycling shorts by the time I was done, which came in handy during my Mr Motivator phase.
In dredging up these old memories, I realise now that I’ve always had an affinity with clothes, even as a 10-year-old girl. What we wear tells the story of who we are- or who we want to be. Certain garments, accessories and materials carry their own meanings, which are subjective to the wearer. Tartan, for example, reminds me of my mother, who followed up the yellow Rupert trousers with a green pair on my 15th birthday. The cereal box cap and bin liner gown were indicative of my academic aspirations and eagerness to learn. My Lycra obsession hinted at what would grow to become a fascination with dancing bodies on stage and screen. It’s been a subconscious thing, but embodied style has been the common thread this whole time.
When I decided to do a PhD, I knew that it had to be on a topic that a) mattered, and b) could hold my attention for at least 3 years. I came up with a number of different ideas (you can literally write a research proposal on any topic you want, as long as you can find the right team to support it), but I always ended up coming right back to dressed-up bodies dancing around. I questioned whether I ought to even write about clothes, since there were so many other “important” things in the world to discuss. If I made it to the end, I’d be what? a doctor of fashion? That seemed a bit frivolous. But, the simple fact is that fashion and style infiltrates everything that we do. So yes, it matters, to each of us personally.
Now that I’ve told you a little bit more about my preoccupation with clothes, I’ll be moving on to my relationship with hip-hop in my next post. As one of the most significant art forms and cultural movements of our time, it serves as the conduit for my current work. Who knew that I could clump all of my favourite things together and forge a career out of it? I’m very fortunate, even more so because my one little question, “What happens at the intersection of hip-hop, dance and fashion?” caught the attention of two powerhouse institutions - London College of Fashion and Sadler’s Wells Theatre – who are now funding my research! It’s a great feeling to be able to say that, but with that endorsement comes a lot of pressure. I’ve talked the talk, I must now walk the walk.
p.s. Feel free to tell me about some of your own fashion fails in the comments below. Be brave, I promise I’ll only laugh a little bit.