When was it that we started dressing for others acceptance and stopped wearing what we wanted?
The first beats of music start to play in the background. Sometimes it’s the latest pop song that’s been blasted on the radio for days, other times it’s something from Bach’s concerto No 6 (It always makes it feel more dramatic that way.) Because somewhere along the line, getting ready became more like a ceremony than anything else.
It never mattered that this elaborate show I was putting on would only ever be witnessed by myself; I felt that it appropriately set the mood for my transformation. Something amazing was about to happen- I could feel it right there humming in the air.
And as the rising crescendo builds, the closet is thrown open.
Before I became a fashion designer and created what I liked, my dive into the realm or alternative fashion was a slow and tentative one.
You could say I’ve been a “girly girl” since the day I was born. I always felt that if I was going to dress up to look cute, then I might as well go all out.
First comes the lingerie; as frilly and colour coded as the outfit that would be chosen.
During my studies I had a chance to explore the trends in the fashion capitals of the world. But while I admired the sleek and stylish, none of it ever felt like a fit to my own ‘Barbie aesthetics’ that I’d held onto since I was young. Thus started my journey on finding my niche.
The typical no longer interested me. Instead it felt only natural that if I were to take my current look further, then my metamorphosis would bring me even deeper in a world of bows, frills and lace.
Next come the layers. Petticoat, blouse, dress.
It was that mindset that first pulled me into the “kawaii” styles of Harajuku.
I wouldn’t say I went through phases, it was more so that I immediately gravitated towards the cutsey types of fashion that was most prominent in Japan all at once. It amazed me that it seemed one could literally wear anything they liked; be as outrageous and odd as they pleased, and rather than be ridiculed for it, they were celebrated.
I loved the concept almost more than the fashion: that there were people who could do as they pleased.
The stockings will come later, right before the shoes.
I immediately drew inspiration from it. But I should’ve known that even then, dressing for yourself would never come so easy.
Then it’s a matter of choosing the necklace and matching purse.
That’s when all the labels first began. Always, always the labels. At first I thought maybe it wasn’t a bad thing, to have a name for those who wore the types of things I liked. It was nice to be part of a little community of people who shared my interests. But even people who dressed similarly found reasons to criticize.
‘Lolitas’ were the epitome of Doll and the closest thing to a group I ever felt like I belonged in. But they were strict with their rules of fashion. Rules that I found were made to be broken. Because wasn’t the whole point of what I was doing, to be free? How could I be free to be myself if I was once again bound by what I was “supposed” to do? Dresses had to be a certain length, modesty was key, heels were discouraged.
…I decided I wasn’t a Lolita then.
After that I danced through the remaining realms of Harajuku fashion like a butterfly sampling the nectar from several different flowers all at once. Trying desperately to find a group I could call my own.
‘Fairy-kei’ had the pastels, but not the elegance.
‘Dolly-kei’ had the layers, but demanded more vintage.
‘Larme-kei’ had the demeanor, but didn’t suit the fit and flare silhouette I enjoyed.
I wasn’t sure I could call myself a Living Doll either- I didn’t wear the wigs or contacts. Because for me it was never about becoming someone else. It was about enhancing who I was, and what I felt. I never wanted to change so much that I couldn’t recognize who was peering back at me on the other side of the mirror.
Hours have passed contemplating, decisions have been made and then revoked. One would think the fate of the world depended on if my dress matched my nails with the way I am so meticulously scrutinizing every detail.
In the end I was nowhere closer to finding a name for my quirky style than from when I first started. Was there anywhere for me to fit in? Or was I doomed to always walk the line, flirting with each fashion but never fully committing to a relationship with it.
As every piece is added to the ensemble, I feel myself becoming more and more alive. As if I am a still doll that’s slowly getting it’s life breathed into it.
I soon realized… I was my own category.
My existence is assured.
I decided then and there, that I wouldn’t care what type of fashion I was labeled under. As far as I knew, I drew inspiration from many things, and enjoyed turning it into my own.
Society could call me whatever they wished.
And finally, when the ensemble is created, the makeup comes next.
And call me things they did.
“You look like a princess or something out of Alice In Wonderland!” Some said.
“You look like a freak. Why are you dressing like a little kid in a costume?” said others.
In the end I got so used to getting stares in public that I conditioned myself to automatically tune it all out. That being said; the looks weren’t all bad. Most were awed and complimentary, others were full of scorn and confusion. But above all, there was always that underlining curiosity. “Why does she dress like that?” To which, my answer continues to be “Why not?”
I pick my tools of choice and artfully place the powder-dusted brush against my cheek like an artist painting its first stroke on a blank canvas.
I once had someone tell me that dressing like a doll implied I was an airhead and questioned “why an educated woman such as yourself” would put myself through that.
I found it hilarious that this person acted as though I was dressing for her or anyone else’s approval. (Not to mention how naive it would be to assume anything about someone’s intelligence based on their appearance!) I was dressing for me, and always will. If that meant prancing down the street in a ruffled dress as layered as a cake with ribbons down my waist and flowers in my hair like something out of a storybook- what did it matter to anyone else?
It’s exhilarating. For makeup will always be art in it’s most personal form.
It’s something I’ll never understand. Why people find the need to define something as “bad“ if it’s different. Do they fear the out-of-the-ordinary so much? Is the thought of not comprehending why a twenty-something year old girl likes to draw inspiration from the stunning dresses of the Rococo Period so terrifying that they instead attach it to the negative connotation of a child’s toy? Or worse, imply that my state of dress is some sort of strange fetish?
One person once told me that if my style wasn’t to do with any of the reasons they were assuming, then surely there was a deeper meaning to it all.
And when my cheeks are rosy and my eyes are sparkling, I know it’s time for the last step; The Hair.
To which I had to stop and think about it. Did “Dressing like a Doll” have some sort of complex allusion to me? Was it because I craved perfection? That beauty standards in today’s world was so unattainable that instead of trying and failing to become society’s version of ‘ideal’, I went in the opposite direction and achieved the perfection that I recognized as a child; the flawlessness of a Victorian Doll?
Perhaps it did.
Once curled or straightened depending on the mood- I open my collection of 70 bows, going through each one carefully before picking out what will be the final touch…
Or perhaps I just liked the way I looked. Liked the way I felt when I was all dolled up. A thought so simple, and yet so difficult to hold onto in a world that seems to try and make us constantly aware of our biggest insecurities. So if my Doll-esque fashion can encourage the confidence in being my own version of pretty regardless of the world’s view on it, then I certainly don’t see it as a bad thing. (I always did prefer Bo-peep over a sheep.)
So perhaps the answer wasn’t so complicated at all. Maybe the answer was as simple as that it made me happy. And really, does there need to be a deeper meaning than that?
…and delicately position it just so in my pink-dyed locks.
In the end, happiness comes in all forms and sizes and means different things to different people. So who cares what anyone else thinks; why not wear what will bring you joy?
As the music slows to a stop, it looks as if a hurricane of pastel had hit my room. Mini mountains of clothes lie in heaps on the chairs, purses and shoes have scattered across the floor, tangles of hangers have clattered to the bottom of my closet, and necklaces have been strewn about across the bed.
But I stare into the large ornate mirror and smile.
The outfit is complete.