I am a Leo. Due to my propensity, as a stereotypical teenage girl, towards medieval superstitions, I believed it was this – my August birthday – that determined my obsession with clothes, costumes, fanciful miscellany and make-up.
Now, I am far more skeptical and think clothes are the key that release or indeed restrict, my introversion. The stars have little input.
When I am bare faced – no moisturiser, no foundation, no concealer, no mascara to outline my ghostly lashes – I feel bare. Exposed. Unable to muster up even my true self, let alone a performance.
But, after I have administered layer upon layer of cream, paste, powder and colour, I feel wholly ready. And it is the same with clothes. My garments can shape my mood as much as my figure. One of the things I find so trying about work is the dress code: smart casual. What the hell do you mean? I like boxes and order and boundaries when it comes to anxiety inducing things, like my job. I don’t want to roll in to my workplace, a school full of hormonal teenagers, inappropriately dressed as if I’m trying to impress anyone. Equally, wearing formal attire makes me feel like a contrived guest at a funeral.
I like clothes that provide rocket fuel and somehow launch me into more of myself, giving me that extra push of energy I need when the words I have, or my all-too-revealing face, fail me.
Clothes; identity; uniform; non-uniform. Much of my day is spent reminding students of how to dress ‘appropriately’ for school. “Tuck your shirt in. Pull your skirt down. Do your tie up.” Imperative after imperative command these kids to align themselves with the rules and they have a deep fixation with the power of cloth and dye to destroy or create a personality.
Take Curley’s wife. For those of you that haven’t read Of Mice and Men, go grab a copy now, it’s a fantastic, bleak, novella that virtually all high school kids read at some point. Curley’s wife is a character with no name, she is her husband’s and her appearance is of the utmost importance: “she wore a cotton house dress and red mules, on the insteps of which were little red ostrich feathers.”
The sexual imagery is obvious to even the most naive of 14 year olds, but what has struck me is that every time I have taught it, Curley’s wife has incited so much rage amongst the students, particularly the boys. Her sexuality angers them and this has been reflected in class discussions about freedom and clothing:
“What a girl wears is obviously significant.”
“I’m not saying it’s right to rape a girl, but if I was on a rape jury then I would want to know what the victim was wearing.”
“Just don’t go out dressed provocatively if you want to stay safe.”
Obviously, I have addressed and will continue to address these kind of comments, but as a woman, a feminist, a human, I am still shocked by the old-fashioned ideas that tumble out of the same mouths that animatedly defend other wrongs. These are wonderful 21st Century kids in a multi-cultural setting who would never dream of discriminating, but these ideas of image and femininity don’t feel like discrimination to them. They feel like common sense. Like the rules.
How can we operate in a world where teachers tell students how to dress, employers tell employees and magazines scrutinize every image of every d-list celebrity and yet still be surprised when superficial stereotypes persist? I genuinely don’t know. What I do know is that my cheeks could do with some blush.