Oct 26, 2009

Cross Dressing Canvas - Part 1

Clothing is pretty central to cross dressing surely. It takes clothes to dress after all. Link # 1 established elegantly in a mere 15 words. Well done. Now for the bits thats are somewhat of a stretch, complete with a warning up front for you:

Much of what follows is about clothing in general, style to a degree, and at the outer edges, fashion. Not so much of it has to do with cross dressing per se. There you are, duly warned.

This essay is an attempt at better understanding the role that fashion plays in my life. It might be a bit of reach my dear friends, on a Monday morning with only a tiny flicker of light on this matter ‘tween my ears just now. But I am going to take a swing at it.

For the 95% of my time spent either buck naked for sleep, or drabbed up for the usual undertakings of my not secret life, I dress with a couple of thresholds in mind. Comfort yes, correct for the elements, warm, cold or wet. Of course some thought or reflex goes into not appearing oddly dressed, underdressed or overdressed for whatever business or social doings are being done, and for mere pride, cleanly. Absence of food stains, ink smudges and undue wrinkling subtly informs the near universe that you are not a total madman and perhaps deserving of a respectful hearing.

Every now and then, an occasion for a little more splendor, formality or effort will present. A wedding, a party, a funeral, or a bigger-than-normal business engagement that will require shinier shoes, a well considered shirt and tie match and, at the high end, the selection of a dapper pair of cuff links. On these increasingly rare occasions, functional dressing gets raised to a level of expression of pointedly, proud personal style.

We don’t dress up much these days, business-casual being the more or less global rule. Technology is so central to our work and lives, that it seems that the style ethos of the technology vendors sets the bar, and for us fellows at least, khakis and a smart shirt passes muster. Clothes do not make the man so much as they once did, and not so long ago either.

In my 20’s I was well creased, dark suited and smartly strangled at the neck 5 days a week. Clothing took a bigger bite of my wallet then, and of the wallets of workmates. In those times there was more room and a bigger demand for thought about personal style. I was proud and peacocky in my wardrobe and appearance in general. I aimed to be unique, unique enough to be noticed but not so much as to appear over-interested. I was suspicious about everything and everyone just over that fine line. Beyond style I felt was an odd world of fashion.

My social circle at that time were active in the arts, theater people, lots of TV types (television that is), PR and advertising folk, and most of them were style conscious, and au courant to a healthy degree. I periodically then rubbed elbows with people very much in the fashion business and very avante garde, and they struck me as having a screw or two slightly loose or mis-threaded. They took it all so seriously. They seemed to be possessed of an encyclopeadic knowing about what I thought to be a frothy merangue of not much. In conversation, they assumed that their passions were shared. I could nod and grin only as long as my glass was not emptied, which was never too long in hindsight.

I believed then that the fashion-obsessed had fallen into a trap and were being victimized by a malevolent industry optimized to prey on insecurities and machined to create demand for things with high prices and with low, and not long lived value.

One happy random night at a party somewhere in the 80’s, a woman tottered by me in a pair of what looked like bright red Converse hi-top laced-up basketball shoes glued somehow to a 4 or 5” stiletto heel. Caught my eye surely, and to a friend beside me, I opined:

“Fredericks of Hollywood has an athletic line now it seems”

Too loudly it seems. In this woman’s odd wake a male proto-fashionista glided by and, with a stereotypical hiss, bit back at me:

“ They’re Norma Kamali bitch*. Do you know anything?”

Truly a beautiful moment. I laughed aloud. I had been told clearly that I was not in the know, and not qualified to know either. This I took great comfort in. I really did not want to know. The ceaseless labor and worry I associated with being fashionable was just not in my suite of cares. I was alert to the traps and secure enough be free of them. Pity the fashionable I thought, for they have been bought.

The tide in my mind is turning now on the issue. I have started to find more and more merit in the world of fashion. The more seriously I investigate my cross dressing, the more I have come to understand how much my transformations into a different self is an inherently creative, even artistic undertaking.

Life is inherently artistic. Our bodies are the only canvas we have with us, always. Link # 2 in another 15 efficient words.

Our clothes are paints of a type. Some of us are driven to go beyond painting by the numbers, within the lines, and from a palette of primaries. Many of us who cross dress are surely driven to dress by some difference we have or feel with regard to gender and how we express it, but also I suspect that we are driven by some kernel of art within us that kindles our fires. Our acts of dressing are acts of creative expression, and moments spent nurturing, refining and satisfying an artistic muse within.

And as for the high priests and priestesses of the fashion worlds, perhaps they, at their very best, are not so different from painters, sculptors, poets and the like, posing to themselves a challenge against conventions and boundaries. Asking how to take what has influenced them in the past, make it new for the present, and perhaps leave something of interest to the future.

Perhaps, therefore, fashion is not all fluff, trick lighting and deception.

I will attempt in Part 2 to make more sense of this for me, and for the undoubtedly few of you who have made it this far, who perhaps share my muse on the matter.

Happy dressing - Petra

* this was the mid-late 80's. Norma was not on the shelves at Wal-Mart then.
photo credit - Jonathan Saunders Spring 2009 - Thanks Carrie!


Tights Lover said...

Good post. You raise some great points!

Lynn Jones said...

What did Mr Wilde have to say about fashion? :)

Fashion comes and goes - some of it I am glad to see the back of. I'm not enjoying the 80s shoulder pad revival at all.

I find it interesting that some fashions run and run - seemingly for many seasons despite what the media and fashionistas try to throw at us as 'the next big thing'.

Cool post, BTW.

Leslie Ann said...

Well-stated, as always, bitch! I had really only thought of my face as a canvas, but you make a great argument.

Petra Bellejambes said...

TL - Thanks, and nice to see you here.

Lynn - true words. The coming and the going, and the cycling of standards. We move as herds, and are sometimes lead as flocks.

There is of course a lot of crass commercialization in the business though, yes, and thats not going away anytime soon.

We should not lose sight of the spark of art at the start of the cycle though.

Leslie Ann - face canvas metaphors coming in part 2. Bitch ...

Anonymous said...

As a former art student I can really appreciate the thought of the body as canvas and the clothing and make-up are merely "paints" of expression that can change with mood or situation. A great posting!

Dayita Angelis said...

I have thought much on this as well. Clothing is also communication, although in a decidedly non-rational and covert channel. And what complicates it even more is the fact that the message of clothing is not merely subliminal but also fluid and requires active engagement with someone to understand how to interpret it.

I do not actively cross-dress, and in spite of my own gender dysphoria, I don't feel the urge that so many people in our community describe. But having started to come out, I have been able to feel the need to use my mode of dress to establish a social context more comfortable to me. Using my clothing as a tool first line of relational signals *does* draw me with the thought of pre-empting so much of the gender-based (and mostly masculine) gamesmanship which I find so tiresome.

The artistic aspect of clothing was one that I have always enjoyed when on-stage (performing both musically and theatrically), but one that I never really allowed any room in the life surrounding everything that is my "day-job". Nevertheless I do agree with you, and I think that the act of consciously learning to communicate our gender brings all of this to the fore. We must become aware of the communication value of these things. We must be more insistent on expressing our unique desire. WHy would fashion not become important to us - either in accepting the bits we like, or rejecting the bits we hate?

Couture Carrie said...

Life is artistic, darling Petra! And thank goodness for that!

This is an incredibly thoughtful and moving passage (and exquisitely crafted, too, of course)! I love how you trace your fashion evolution through the years...

Thanks so much for the mention ~ I am both honored and flattered, and very glad that I have gotten to know you through this little fashion blogosphere of ours!


Petra Bellejambes said...

Eleanor - so glad to strike a chord.

Dayita - a very interesting and a very different perspective. We do share a stage background, elaborated on in Part 2. Delighted to have your company and thoughts.

Carrie - just honored as always. A bientot ...

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