Last week a couple of my co-workers proposed that we draw names from a hat and come to work dressed as eachother. Almost everyone was totally stoked and we all jumped at the chance to play along. We drew names on Thursday and planned for the event to take place on the following Tuesday: thus giving us enough time to find appropriate clothes.
The rest of the week progressed with an increasing sense of unease. Conversations got quieter, interactions more awkward, as each
one of us tried to anonymously analyze the wardrobe of another co-worker. The nerves were two-fold. I kept trying to snatch glances of my target, while also keeping an eye out for who was trying to snatch glances at me. I was nervous getting dressed on Friday and Monday because I knew that whatever I wore would influence how someone thought of me, and would directly effect their emulation of me. As soon as I was aware that there was someone specific looking closely at my outfit, there was so much pressure. It was like getting dressed to go out socially, but with even more at stake.
Meanwhile, I had drawn the name of the most hip, anti-social girl who works there. (I know that sounds like somewhat of a contradiction, but she's the kind of cool that is too cool to hang out with the rest of the gang. You know the type.) Although I had no reason to think otherwise, I was already unsure that she liked me. In my head, her like or dislike hinged on my interpretation of her "look".
The pressure was on.
Two shopping trips (but no purchases) later, I still had nothing. I had seen some things that I thought would work in Target, but when i tried them on I just realized why they weren't my style. I was trying on shirts with placates and straight, loose fronts: they looked horrible on me! Not flattering in any way, shape or form. My friend Kati was in a similar stew. She had chosen a co-worker who was older and who's style is... pretty much opposite Kati's. We talked about not wanting to look offensive to the person we were trying to be, attempting to look presentable as ourselves as them, and being recognizable to the rest of the staff.
The day arrives...
That's me on the left dressed as Rebecca L, Rebecca Batt (different Rebecca) as Juliet, Carrie-Ann as Reesha, Natalia as Melanie and Melanie as Michael. (What's really interesting, actually, is that photos can't actually convey how awkward it
was to work as and around someone dressed as someone else. Although swapped sartorial identities are humorous and embarrassing in real life, they mean nothing to the internet.)
Here's Reesha dressed as me! Notice the earthtones, glasses and requisite Harry Potter pin which reads: "I passed my O.W.L.'s with Flying Colors"! (Which she made herself.) Amazing!! Also, she's wearing these GREAT twill converses that I would totally wear if, y'know, they belonged to me and not her. Blast!
(*side note: sorry for the shitty formatting... I'm still getting used to this whole browser situation...)
Anyway, it was a really interesting experience. It was like an accidental experiment in the social power of clothing. We choose what we wear so carefully and so carelessly at the same time. By this age (mid twenties and up?) our wardrobes are pretty much a set palate. But one person's everyday wear is another person's costume. I feel like this idea of "clothes as costume" is discussed a lot in the queer community because of all the conversations about clothes and gender-roles. (Which, ironically didn't really come up today even with a gay boy being thrown into the mix. He was happy as heck to don a wig and a patterned sweatshirt, sorry no photo, and his clothes are gender-neutral enough to not make a girl uncomfortable.)
Even hair was an important signifier of... fashion roles:
I've thought about doing projects with clothing and costume for a while now. My plan (as far as art scheming goes) is to ask a number of people to choose my entire wardrobe for extended periods of time. The people would be chosen specifically for my relationship with them: both people I'm very close to and people who I don't know quite as well. (My mother would be a particularly interesting choice, I think.) I would then have both me and the clothing-chooser keep a diary of how it felt to be on either side of the experiment. I find it really interesting because, as social people, we tend to ask eachother for fashion advice all the time. This would just be the ultimate extreme of that practice. Hopefully one day I'll get around to actually doing it.
Anyway, it was fun to watch this whole group of intelligent, conscious individuals stumble into a learning experience. Also I think we're going to be doing theme days a lot more often now. Other potential topics:
1. Corporate Business Attire
2. Extreme versions of ourselves
3. Ourselves at 15
4. The Outfit You've Always Wanted to Wear But Never Had the Opportunity