Thursday, October 25, 2012

On Concerts and Fashion

A little over a month ago, I attended Amanda Palmer's concert at First Avenue in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I got beer splashed on me, had a very drunk girl fall on my feet, didn't get back until 1:30 in the morning, and had to go to work the next day running on almost zero sleep. And it was totally worth it.

I love concerts. I especially love concerts that offer a strong aesthetic in both audience and performance. This concert absolutely delivered. The music was fantastic, and there was a sense of theatricality going through both the performers and the audience. This concert was full of self-expression of all sorts, not the least of which was in the clothing that people chose to wear.

Amanda, herself, was gorgeous as always. She was sporting a bra, corset, gold leggings, tons of bracelets, stage makeup like crazy, and a lot of jewelry shoved in her bra and belt.

Just as awesome looking were my fellow attendees (sadly, I didn't get many pictures of the most fabulous outfits I saw, so I'm borrowing the ones I'm posting here from Citypages) I was amazed at how many different levels of clothing I saw, from people in t-shirts and jeans to full-out goth looks to hipster-y throwbacks to the 1980s. There was a woman in a kilt-like full skirt who was one of the nicest people I met. There were girls in corsets and guys in top hats. There were guys in corsets and girls in top hats, for that matter. Myself, I wore casual gothic/classic Lolita.

It was, quite frankly, a delightful mishmash of styles, and there were compliments flying in line as I waited for the doors to open. A young lady photographing for Citypages rushed by the line, picking out a few people every-so-often to photograph. I was rather surprised when I was one of them.

Seriously, wasn't everyone looking amazing? I think part of the fun of waiting outside the venue was looking at the incredibly wide variety of looks people were sporting.

Oh, right. And there was me.

Tights: Target
Blouse: Mossimo (several years old)
JSK: Bodyline
Underskirts: Handmade
Flowers etc.: Claire's and Target
The Citypages photo of me, unfortunately, did not feature a smile, so the only decent shot I got of my outfit where I don't look cranky was at 1 am in the parking garage. Ah, well, I'm pleased with it.

And all of this, of course, got me thinking about clothing as it pertains to concerts in general.

There are always people who attempt to mimic the performer's style as much as possible when they attend a concert, whether or not it's how they actually dress. And there are people who dress the way they usually do. And there are people who use concerts as an excuse to dress the way that they want to dress but can't due to work or some other social limitation.

I'm usually of the third type. I ramp up my clothing for a concert because I can, but I can see an argument for any of the options.

Personally, I'm not a fan of mimicking the artist's style, though. Taking inspiration from, certainly, but outright miming their aesthetic sense seems... off to me. Part of what makes people want to mimic the style is that the performer is unique visually and musically, and I find it more honest and more in the spirit of creation to take a little bit of their aesthetic and to blend it with your own. I know imitation is supposed to be the sincerest form of flattery, but I find that inspiration is: it's not finding an artist's work important enough that you wish to copy it, but important enough that it inspires you to try to create something as great. And, in terms of clothing, that leaves you a lot of wiggle room.

That's my personal take on the issue, though. If you disagree, that's fine. I won't judge you for your clothing choices so long as you don't judge me for mine.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Inspired Outfits: The Orphan's Tales

The inspiration that I get from books can be... varied. Sometimes, the tone they give me is so out of the ordinary for me that I just sort of follow along.

Such is the case with Catherynne Valente's books.

I love her books. They're poetic and shifting and mythic and folded, labyrinthine, over each other. But that doesn't really jive with the structure I usually have in the clothing that I like. They fit more with an ethnic and bohemian vibe.

But that doesn't mean they don't inspire me. And so I made these.
The Orphan's Tales - Golod
Golod was a strangely inspiring character in In The Cities of Coin and Spice. A beast composed entirely of teeth and hunger, I wanted there to be something off about this outfit. Ivory was a natural choice for the color, of course, but I wanted to emphasize both the fluid motion of the clothing and the sharp points of the teeth.
I'd probably pair this set with hollow-eyed makeup, just enough to make it eerie.
The Orphan's Tales - Zmeya
Zmeya was probably the most atmospheric character in any of the tales. A beautiful woman who, it is discovered, is much more serpentine than she seems.

I wanted this to be a bit exotic and belly dancer inspired. I didn't make the clothing white, although her description specifically mentioned white veils, because that sort of clothing doesn't get the same sultry effect across without a face attached. Instead, then, I went with a dark-toned palette and shifting fabrics with copious snake accents.

There are no shoes here, and this is for a reason. Zmeya was kept in specific chambers with no entrance but by the sultan's chambers.
The Orphan's Tales - Ajanabh
Finally, Ajanabh. I loved Ajanabh. I sunk into its walls and wanted to live there. And I'm pretty sure that this shows through in this outfit.

Red shoes were a must, for the dancing master's cinnamon scented heels. A violin, too, for Agarfena. Black chiffon blouse for her smoky hair. The skirt and its dusty colors were lifted from the tone of the city. I merely followed the tone of a run-down city and found this.

Just a little more bookish inspiration for you, readers.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Clothing and Empowerment: Why I Look the Way I Do

A lot of people go, Oh I hate putting a suit on and how can you be comfortable in a suit? And it's like, because this is like medieval armor for me. When I put this on, it's like when you see in the movies and they put a breastplate on and there's a valet and he's standing next to him and a page, and they light a candle and whatnot and I kneel down in front of the thing and I cross myself and I kiss the end of my sword, and I look up at a picture of the king - oh fuck yeah! - and there's a giant purple crystal hanging over my head, and Nicol Williamson is there with a conical hat with mystic runes on it and shit, and an owl flies into the room and sits on his shoulder and looks at me knowingly, right? And then, I fucking put my thing on and they put my cape over me and I mount a giant horse and shit like that. That's what this feels like to me. I feel like I have the protection of the Lord, and that I might go on the crusades - safely - and return with massive booty, and sack Jerusalem, and even meet a Saracen girl. All those things go through my mind when I put my suit on.
--Greg Proops, from his Smartest Man in the World podcast

Yesterday, I realized something as I dragged my copper glitter eyeliner across my lashline and pinned my slouchy beret to my hair: this is my armor.

I don't mean armor in the sense of putting a barrier between myself and the world, an appearance that makes me unapproachable. No. The clothes I wear and, when I think to put it on, my makeup are one of my ways to feel strong and confident. When I wear them, I can walk up to people and chat with them more easily. I don't get flustered. I can speak confidently when others approach me. Cat calls don't get to me. Insults bounce off. The world can't hurt me. I am invincible. I am strong.

A lot of people may not get this. Ruffles and lace, corseted bodices, flowers pinned up and down the side of my head until I look like I have sprouted a garden... it doesn't compute. If I am to be strong, the world thinks, I must don traditionally masculine garb or some semblance of it. My clothing would assign me to a chair in the kitchen or by the window, waiting for someone to come rescue me.

That is, of course, bullshit.

Some people feel empowered by that, certainly. I'm not trying to discount that, but that's not the only way to feel strong. Some people feel empowered by wearing miniskirts. More power to you. Some people feel empowered by wearing suits. Awesome. Some people feel empowered by wearing clothing that allows them to move with ease. Go for it. Wear whatever makes you feel your most confident, your strongest, your wisest, your best.

I feel empowered when I am wearing full skirts and a heaping helping of barrettes.

And maybe I'll be the lady waiting at the window, the princess in the high tower. But it's even more likely that I'll be the crusading knight. Maybe I'll climb a mountain. Maybe I'll discover new places. Maybe I'll cross deserts to find something I can call holy. Maybe I'll meet a Saracen and communicate haltingly in mime until we come to some form of understanding.

And maybe I'll do it in skirts. With the way I feel when I put them on, nobody can stop me.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

On Handling Reactions: Why I Love my Small Town

I have a confession to make: in terms of reactions to my clothing while I lived in my small hometown, I've been lucky.

At home, I have never been asked, "Are you in a play?" I have never been called names. Nobody has ever tried to look up my skirt to see "what makes it poof." I have never been asked if it's a costume, never been accused of having a fetish or of it being a phase. I have only once been asked if I was going to a play, and that was by a friend who thought I was a little extra dressed up that day, which I was.

My mother occasionally asks me if that is what I wore, or what I am wearing, but that's my mother and she will ever be operating under the delusion that I will one day become irrefutably normal.

Other than that, the responses I receive are always, always always positive, or, at the very least, so neutral that one would be tempted to believe that everyone goes out to the grocery store like that. I don't know if it's just that the times I ventured out are the times when the older generation of my hometown are running errands or if the stores I visit are extra positive or if I just happened to live in an extraordinarily weirdness-positive town, but the responses I got are always nice.

I occasionally had older ladies tell me that they used to go out dancing in outfits like I was wearing or compliment me on my rhinestone skeleton hand necklace while I went through the line at church for Wednesday night supper before choir practice (no, I am not kidding).

Older gentlemen tipped a hat or held doors open for me.

Shop owners told me that I look adorable. One even informed me that I looked like an American Girl doll (I had just purchased a vintage Sterlite suitcase and was wearing a very vintage-inspired Lolita look).

People my own age either simply did not gawk or told me that my shoes were cute.

The ladies at church love my tentacle barrettes, which they always mention when I visit.

As I said, I don't know why people react in this way. I'm not so sheltered as to believe that the reactions in all small towns will be this way, and I have certainly become aware that, since I moved, I've entered a whole new environment that is either less welcoming or less aware of the strange things I wear. But, for those who are afraid to jump out into the world of weird in their clothing, I just want to say that there is hope. You never know when the old ladies at church or the random mother on the street will compliment you. Positivity comes in all shapes and sizes. You will find someone, or even a town full of people, who find your style to be amazing and are unafraid to tell you so.

But you won't know until you try.

The hardest part, when people are positive, is to know what to do. You might be tempted to think that they are mocking you, but, unless they're obviously making fun of you, just act in a polite manner. Thank them, smile, and move on.