I am oft accused of being a “one woman theme party” or “the duchess of fancy dress.” No exaggeration: I am actually oft accused of those things.
I grew up on the precipice of the bizarre, in a house at the intersection of the Unexpected and the Peculiar. Yet, my parents are convinced that Matthew and I had a perfectly ordinary childhood. Every time they say this to us and to each other, my brother and I exchange knowing glances, as if to say, We know of no other family where the matriarch comes home with a full-length Lady Godiva wig and no one thinks a thing of it.
That did happen. I went into the laundry room at my parents’ house one afternoon a while back, and discovered my mother had reorganised some things in order to hang her new Lady Godiva wig on the back of the door. At the time, finding a long, blonde wig painstakingly hung up was so unremarkable, commenting would’ve seemed…strange?
We had (and still have) a costume cabinet at my parents’ house. I don’t know how thoroughly my mother has cleaned that thing out, but for years it was stuffed full of capes, and hand-made princess dresses; choir robes enough to outfit a small congregation; wigs of all shapes and sizes; etc. There was no point in having it, really, I think my mother just liked weird things, and I love(d) playing dress-up.
But generally, there was no rhyme or reason to the collection itself and my things were just building blocks — fluff and feathers; glitter and silk waiting to be made into something else.
How do you make something from nothing? Or at least, from mere threads? I think that is the story of the last few years of my life. Maybe the history of my family, and the narrative of most of the people I know.
The costumes in my house, while somewhat random, do have a point. We dress up for holidays; we wear fancy dress to celebrate, to mourn. Someone’s always got a hankering to put on the captain’s hat, or the Horns of Fury. I always say that I was or am “different,” and to one extent, I think this is true, and to another extent, I think this is kind of a bullshit thing to say. There are times during all our adolescent and adult lives where we feel terribly isolated, or afraid that we are each doing/wanting things different than our peers.
I think I have maybe always just been more obvious about it. Or maybe having wacky dress-up clothes really is different.
But I guess my point is that I’m glad that I had and have a weird and wonderful collection of dress-up clothes. I’m not sure I would’ve survived the last few years without having had time to flex my imagination muscle; to set up scenes; to try wacky costumes and ideas on for size. And I suppose having a messy, mismatched box of clothes — culled from garage sales and cast-off from community theatres and high school drama departments — let me dig deep into making what I needed of the bejeweled bits and pieces at my disposal.
I read these stories about people buying their children pre-packaged costumes so they can keep up on the playground, and I read about “The Princess Wars.” I wonder how these kids will develop their imaginations; how they will sort out their feelings and test various scenes. What will happen to them if their lives are suddenly turned upside down and they need to escape into the land of make-believe? What will happen if their hearts are broken and they want to play princess-for-a-day when they are 30? Will they have grown the imagination to know how to self-soothe?
Will Cinderella be enough?
She was never enough for me. That’s why I have a sequined dirndl.
(Dr Berri in the dirndl; me in the infamous captain’s hat – Winesgiving 2010)