I attended my first engagement party last night. I am officially old, and apparently in need of slightly fancier outfits for the onslaught of weddings headed my way. College was the last time I wore anything remotely dressy, and thanks to Facebook’s exceptional memory, I am reminded on a daily basis that I resembled a slutty princess with bad ankles and a drinking problem. Hey, I was on the pull. Today, I exist in runners and a backpack, and when required to step it up for an event or a night out with the girls, I begrudgingly attack my wardrobe as though possessed. I consistently find I have nothing to wear. The irony is not lost on me by the way.
Fashion is supposed to be fun, no? And it is. I love experimenting with outfits when there is no expectation and when it is simply to please myself. When I find myself having to adhere to a dress code, albeit an invisible one, I am stubborn, belligerent. Why should I dress with someone else in mind. Why should I wear tight black jeans and a black leather jacket on a night out, or a glitzy dress and ten feet tall heels to an engagement party. Of course, I realize no one is actively pulling clothes over my head, but it still sits there, hostile and uninvited.
Societal dress codes have been in place since the 19th century. Defined broadly as “rules that regulate an individual’s appearance”, they defined one’s age, occupation, gender, social class and status. In 2016, this still holds, and yet it is hazier, less defined. Depending on where you choose to live of course. Ireland is still held in place by certain invisible rules – I still feel an underlying pull towards dressing a certain way, for a certain setting. While every city has its’ creative quarter and selection of artistic and experimental individuals, there is still that sameness that exists alongside it. 'Out of the ordinary' is something that should be celebrated. And perhaps it is. Perhaps this feeling I struggle with is an aftertaste of having grown up in cookie cutter harmony. 'Cool' was the only word we knew, or cared to know.
This week’s Sunday Times Style Magazine featured artist and illustrator Julie Verhoeven, who at the time of the interview was wearing thick Cleopatra-style eye make-up, ghetto-fabulous earrings and a jumper with sewn-on knickers that have granny’s tights dangling from them. She spoke about how people react when they see her, “Kids on the tube sometimes film me. They think they’re doing it secretly, but I can tell when it’s nasty. I know I can look quite grotesque, but I’m not brave enough to go out without makeup. Wearing a lot of makeup is getting quite fashionable though, so I might have to start avoiding it. Anyway, I make myself laugh like a loon. ” Another anti-convention advocate is Irish designer Richard Malone, who spoke openly with Irish Design 2015 about his dislike for the word 'cool'. “I like to think that there are a lot of women out there who aren't concerned by trends, whose choices aren't dictated by what is 'cool'. I think 'cool' is an awful thing and can often be the death of anything creative. I also hate that there are these societal pressures to look a certain way every 6 months, it’s too much pressure to put on women, especially young girls. There are much more interesting things that we should be talking about.”
I’m not claiming to be Julie Verhoeven or Richard Malone for that matter, but it is inspirational people like them that allow us to be freer with our self-expression. With that in mind, I challenged myself to style a look for a potential wedding or event without considering the dress code, or the setting, or my fellow attendees, or the trends currently “trending” . This is what I actually wanted to wear, unrevised and unedited. I combined vintage and Irish design in an attempt to achieve an outfit that was both classic and slightly off-beat. I removed the rules and readjusted my lampshade-esque straw hat. Diners in the queue for the nearby Herb Street Restaurant almost found something else to worry about. Almost. Unfortunately I didn’t quite make it to YouTube.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Christina Higgins
OUTFIT: Navy sheer high-necked blouse, Lennon Courtney, yellow graffiti-inspired skirt, St Vincent de Paul, navy bejewelled sandals, Zara, straw hat, H&M