Today is the start of Fashion week in New York City. Instead of spinning around in my chair, and staring blankly out the window when I should be writing, I’m obsessively checking Tom & Lorenzo’s Twitter feed from the Project Runway finale show, and staring blankly at pretty pictures on style blogs when I should be writing. I have been obsessed with fashion since I begged for (and got) my first pair of high heeled sandals for my sixth grade graduation. They were white leather (a color I haven’t worn on my feet since) with spiked heels. My mother was appalled, I was ecstatic. All the money I earned through babysitting as a teenager went to clothes. My mother’s friend Donna was a talented seamstress and I once traded babysitting for her skills. I still remember the dress. It was pink with gray polka dots, a wide belt, full skirt, and contrasting collar. In fact, hanging in my closet at this very moment is more grown up version of that very dress. I didn’t realize that at the time I bought it, I only knew that putting the dress on in the fitting room made me ridiculously happy.
Clothes are another creative outlet for me. I love having the power to transform and express myself at will simply by what I put on or take off. I can use clothing as armor. I can face anything with high enough heels and a sharply tailored jacket or pencil skirt. The right outfit speaks volumes and I don’t have to open my mouth.
As a performer I have discovered that what gets worn on-stage has the power to enhance or detract. I have been distracted on many occasions from what should have been a brilliant performance by poor wardrobe choices. I once spent an entire evening worrying whether a divine performer of my acquaintance was going to (in the words of Project Runway contestant Peach) show us the good china, so ill fitting was her outfit. It was no way for either of us to spend an evening.
The most iconic performers have a strong visual component. Think of Frank Sinatra, Dolly Parton, Bruce Springsteen, or Madonna and more than music comes to mind. Whether it’s Sinatra’s impeccable suit and fedora, Dolly’s sequins and sky high heels, Springsteen’s jeans and tees or Madonna’s ever shifting fashion persona each one has a defined sense of personal style. You may not agree with Dolly’s wardrobe choices but her outfits are immaculately tailored with never a sequin out of place and tell you exactly what she wants you to know about her. Even Springsteen’s basic jeans, and tee look is perfectly pulled off. Those aren’t just any jeans he’s thrown on, they fit like a dream, not too loose, or too long and that tee is made of great material, and his hair is perfectly groomed. It’s all meant to look like he just threw it all together, but in reality it takes a lot of effort to get it just right.
I was raised by a mother who insisted on good manners. The kind of manners that let other people know they are important. Dressing the part was a huge part of her training. Dressing for an event wasn’t about my being comfortable it was letting people know that I loved and respected them by putting the time and thought into what I wore. As much as I would love to go on-stage in sweat pants and bare feet because that’s what’s comfortable, I couldn’t do it. I want an audience to know I went to some effort because THEY were coming to see me. They’re leaving their house and paying to see me the least I can do it look presentable, and of course, sing really pretty.
My favorite part of clothing is the actual ritual of getting dressed. It’s more than just choosing an outfit and putting it on, it’s about the act of transitioning from one part of my life to another. This is especially true of getting ready to go out on-stage. That act of taking off the street make-up and clothes and putting on the performance wear helps me put aside all the stuff that happened outside the venue, the business end of getting the gig, the slow traffic that I had to crawl through to get there, whatever. The act of getting dressed helps me forget all that and focus on what I’m about to do, and the people I’m doing it for. It’s not just when I’m working that this happens though. Even just changing from my every day errand running outfit into an outfit to go out for dinner has the excitement of transitioning into another version of myself. Clothing let’s me become different people sometimes in the course of a single day, and really, what’s not to love about that?
So Happy Fashion Week! Gotta run now it’s almost time for Project Runway!