Costume changes everything
At a beachside town a couple of years ago I saw a young couple dressed as Goths. Not as cathedrals in that style of architecture, or as members of an axe-wielding Germanic tribe, or as characters in an Emily Bronte novel (though that’s fairly close), but as the black-clothed, black eyelinered Emo youth of the 1980s and ‘90s.
I found it quaintly anachronistic, almost cute. Incidentally, the young man’s mum owned the chip shop they were in, so they were not likely to waste away romantically that afternoon.
Costume is an essential part of a subculture, an urgent wish to distinguish oneself sartorially from the norm, whatever that is. I am in no way writing about ethnic dress, but about interesting folks who have enough time and food on their hands to bother dressing up.
My first introduction to costume other than the Sydney suburban norm was through my older brother Peter in the 1960s. (Or was it through the forbidden pages of National Geographic?) My brother started hanging out with the inner-city Beatnik crowd in Rowe Street.
The Beat look, originating in the USA in the ‘50s and probably influenced by French existentialism, involved black costume, from shades to jackets, to skivvies and goatees.
The highlight of my brother’s flirtation with Beat was the staged kidnapping of Brian Henderson of Bandstand fame, live on air. As Henderson was bundled off by university students, Peter played bongo drums for the cameras while a young woman gyrated about, clad in black, of course.
Consumerism has costumes
Consumerism has its own costumes. Folks, from Punks to the nouveau riche, assert their individuality and seek approval by wearing something that’s fashionable and/or expensive. Calvin Klein undies are more instagrammatical than Tradies, a fine and comfortable brand.
The costume extends to accessories, too. Whereas someone might display a Gucci label prominently on a handbag, I turn my reusable shopping bags bought from a supermarket inside out, so as not to freely advertise what I’ve already paid for.
The most insidious costume of all might be the suit and tie. Most infotech workers have escaped from it, along with Echo drudges, who might wear a cocked hat, eyepatch and fake parrot on Talk Like A Pirate Day, coming up on 19 September. See more at talklikeapirate.com/wordpress.
The tie had a poignant origin in the 17th century Croatian military cravat, a colourful red scarf. Wives watching the battles from hilltops could pick out their blokes from the opposing soldiers and even identify them in death. Cravat Day is still celebrated in Croatia.
Conformity, chiefly invented by aged white males like me, has its costume rules. It is seen as unseemly for a man to wear a skirt, though priests, Greek presidential guards (Evzones) and Scots get away with it. Old Spike Milligan joke: ‘Is anything worn under the kilt?’ ‘Nae, it’s all in perfect working order.’