Growing up, we (well, most of us) loved to play dress ups. Whether you were a princess or a policeman(woman) or even pretending to be a dog, we let our imagination run wild every time the fancy dress box was raided. Everyone wanted a piece of the action, and no one really cared if they were wearing a daggy op shop dress 7 sizes too big or some old shoes that were mysteriously donated to the school.
Sure, we had our games and rules and extensive plots, but the outfits really were the crème del la crème, the final piece to perfect an otherwise ordinary game of house (or famous people, as we often opted for. You should’ve seen the brawls to be Charlie from Hi-5).
Being a kid, clothes were something you were forced to wear and shoes were nothing but a topic of parental nagging. And then, suddenly, they weren’t. I don’t know when it happened exactly, but at some point I decided that I cared about how I dressed, and my styling journey began.
[I toyed with the idea of a style evolution post for a while, but I’ve had such wild hair colours in the past that I would’ve spent the entire write up cringing.]
Wearing a school uniform gave us minimal room to show our personal style, which meant we had to get creative. It would be simple enough: we would pick a cute backpack and beg our parents for some fancy sneakers, and have them fix our hair into a bedazzled masterpiece that would stay perfectly in place all day. The reality of course, was not so Fergie circa Glamourous and much more bleak: my shoes would be impossible to keep clean and my hair had to be scraped back and dunked in hair gel every morning to avoid the plague of nits that took over our school in year 2.
This rather shitty, or should I say, nitty, situation meant that weekends were our time to shine. After school nobody cared about who was wearing what, only about how quickly you could finish your homework and come in play in the streets. But on the weekends, ah! Sleep ins, all day long play dates-turned sleepovers-turned 2 days of house hopping. Oh, the opportunities for fashion statements were endless.
My dad went through a big phase of calling me Cindy Lauper because I wore bubble skirts and off the shoulder tops (and rocked the hell outta them, might I add). Thankfully those unflattering skirts are a thing of the past, but exposed shoulders are here to stay, sir.
This routine of experimental dressing continued merrily until high school, when suddenly it mattered. Suddenly people thought they had the right to comment and judge what you were wearing, and put you down if it was even just a touch off from their personal taste. Overall, I was a pretty cool cucumber, and considered people’s dislike to be in direct correlation with how small their small-town minds were (clue: microscopic), and that if they simply watched anything British they would know how cool I looked.
I won’t deny that dressing for special occasions became a struggle. Dinners, birthday parties, drink ups; every invitation now suddenly came with an unmentioned dress code, meaning I had to deliberate how ballsy I was feeling and how many comments I was willing to cop before I would crack. Thankfully, I don’t think I ever gave anyone the satisfaction of seeming visibly unsure, even though in my head I would be drastically searching through my wardrobe for something less stand-outish.
Now don’t get me wrong, I loved being different. I loved that I was one of the few who had decent music taste, and liked different clothes, and had travelled overseas and understood just how small I was in comparison to the big old world, and how most importantly, that strangers in the real world didn’t give a fuck about what I listened to or wore. It was a powerful feeling, but that didn’t make me immune. No 17 year old wants people to verbally point out their differences, even if it is a somewhat backhanded compliment.
In year 12, a show called Slide came out on Aussie TV. It was basically our version of Skins, but in a lot more light-hearted funny kinda way. The characters were also my age, so obviously I related to them quite a bit, including there wacky yet oh-so-cool fashion sense. There was one particular clip that I’ve always remembered, and that was when one of the girls, Tammy, enters an op shop in search of the perfect writing outfit.
Being a writer myself, I thought this was brilliant. Who could’ve thought it was so simple? Find a magical outfit and only reserve it for kick ass writing days. Published author, here I come! Of course, in the end there was a nice little lesson that Tammy shouldn’t try to pretend to be someone else, and just wear whatever she is comfortable in and the words will flow. In the end, she makes a cup of tea and writes her article in the nude, but that’s beside the point. She’d discovered that although clothes are a brilliant tool to projecting our style and interests, they can’t change who you are on the inside.
That being said, there is some type of mystical power that comes with a Damn Good Outfit. You know the one: you put it on hesitantly, feeling a little self-conscious and a lot out of your comfort zone and then BAM! Fireworks. Glitter canons! Rainbows! Not only does it fit you perfectly, but it’s flattering as hell and makes you feel like a million bucks. Now you’re wondering why you’ve never tried something like it on before. Why don’t you already have it in 7 different colours? Where has it BEEN all your life?
It’s quite refreshing how many times this has happened to me. I’ve been a little daring in a clothing store, not sold on anything but wanting to try it on anyway, and then the Damn Good Outfit emerges from the curtains of material. And if it’s really good, you’ll still find it shining in your wardrobe 5 years later, a luminous failsafe and a beloved vessel of good memories.