Costumes of Everyday Life

Picture it; a classroom full of undergrads. Surprise, we are all fully CLOTHED.

And, as on all days, we wear lots and lots of different costumes. The girl with sweet fringed bangs smiles above her Peter Pan collar and the fella in the pink button-down definitely just came from the gym. Students’ T-shirts display messages ranging form “Be Kind” to “FedEx” to “Portland Marathon Finisher 2015” to scraggly craggly images and bands I suspect I would recognize if only I was cool. The jeans, leggings, shorts and skirts are punctuated by the occasional professional blouse/slacks look.

I love the variety. I love the costume of it all, the theater of daily life, the dressing and construction of the daily story of the self.

During class, I show a little Nick Cave. We talk about the Himba and their unusual-to-us sense of color, and wonder at just how a person moves about in a 18th C. French gown. The conversation drifts steadily into the world of clothing. People have lots to say about clothes from different times and cultures.

At some point I ask, “Hey. What kind of clothes do YOU wear?”

On this, almost everyone agrees.

Apparently, lots of people here wear NORMAL clothes.

And, of course it is true.

We all DO wear normal clothes!

It’s just that all clothes speak. All clothing is costume and language, even if you feel like you are being neutral.

What are you saying with your grey t-shirt? It is just as vocal as the fella in drag, believe it or not.

The conversation gets really interesting, with students digging in to the whys behind their choices. If you chose the grey shirt because it felt normal, then look at what’s normal to you. How does that reflect on your culture and your desired place within? When you think of clothing as a second, chosen skin, it is a vehicle for looking more closely at your creative self.

How about YOU? What are you wearing right now? Why? Dive in!

I thought of this conversation again recently when an article came up in the NYTimes.

“Should These Clothes Be Saved? Thousands of articles of everyday women’s clothing are being preserved in lockers in a college basement. But where, exactly, does their value lie?”

Smith College apparently has a bonkers collection of “everyday clothing”, not so much couture, but just the costumes of life, pieces full of stories created and lived by people.

How very odd that the question of their value should even arise!

Look through your closet. What stories are you telling? I do not find any of this story-telling inauthentic or a put-on. We are human! It is part of our most base communication, one of our most creative everyday acts, the way we communicate to ourselves and others through costume. Embrace it! Besides, there is no getting around clothing and its communicative power; even going nude sends a message!

As a bonus, check out some of these AMAZING photos of people coming through Ellis Island. All of them are wearing their normal clothing. WOW!


Why not Get Curious?

Seeing this photo, I am reminded to slow down, to look closely, and to get curious. True curiosity is an adventure, a bold act of looking with no intended outcome. Look for looking’s sake!