I could have left out the quotation marks, which would have denoted me asking a question of my readers. However, on Saturday night, the question was directed at me, and it caused me to pause while I collected/collated a response.
In fairness, at the time this question was asked of me, I was wearing shiny gold tights, lace-up boots to a couple of inches above my ankles, a red t-shirt with a somewhat crazy print including more shiny stuff, and a cheetah print coat. I may also have been wearing over-sized oval sunglasses with sequins on the sides.
I wasn’t portraying any particular character, simply expressing the party’s theme: “vixen, foxy, quirky, tart or come as you are if you’re an old fart”. It wasn’t exactly the kind of get-up I’d be wearing to a business meeting, or even a casual Friday night visit to the neighbourhood burger joint.
I found it interesting that I found the need to pause before answering the question. Somehow, for a 50-year-old man, who lives (and dresses) a very conventional lifestyle, it felt like a question that was laden with all kinds of implications. Look at it this way – kids dress up all the time (see pic alongside of my brother and me, aged about four), but somehow it’s different for adults.
It’s a ‘thing’ to get into something crazy when you’re a spectator at a cricket test match, or for rugby sevens. One may dress as a recognisable character, whether it’s Elvis or a superhero. There is a ‘cover’ in these; they can be done without putting oneself too much on the line, as it were. Sometimes, dressing up is done with an exaggerated degree of silliness, which may also be part of the cover.
There is also a certain amount of cover if the outfit, from head to toe, has been rented. In the case of my party gear, the coat was given to the women in the house by our ex-neighbour (a fashion designer), I own the t-shirt, and actively went out and bought the shiny gold tights (admittedly for AfrikaBurn). The ‘out’ of renting doesn’t apply in this case.
But it doesn’t have to be about expressing deep-seated psychology. For some, it’s just being creative – or even a bit crazy – seasoned with a sprinkling of exhibitionism. Technically, this may fall into the realm of having a particularly individual style, because it’s how these peeps go out on any average day, even though it may come across as ‘dress-up’.
Dressing up is more fairly the subject of an entire book, not just a few hundred words of my ramblings, so I’m going to keep this focused around the initial question.
My admittedly safe answer was something along the lines of me feeling comfortable doing it when circumstances require (or is that, when the opportunity arises?), which is not the same as saying “Yes!”
On one of the days of AfrikaBurn this year, I wore pretty much the same get-up, with the exception of the t-shirt, in that I was bare-chested under the cheetah print coat. My body is not buff, and I don’t have the skin type that takes on any tan, so this was a big step for me. It felt liberating to cross a line of vulnerability by exposing my upper body to this extent.
Somehow, it’s different to being shirtless by the pool. So, dressing up can also be about facing one’s vulnerabilities – which can take many forms.
During the party, someone asked if I ‘was’ Mick Jagger or David Bowie. Her mindset is clearly that dress-up is an attempt to represent a known character, which wasn’t a consideration for me. She wasn’t entirely wrong – in a sense I was shedding conventionality by taking on a rocker’s look, of sorts. And I had fun doing it.
Play is good for adults, too. So, yes, I enjoyed dressing up on Saturday.