This weekend I wore more sequins than I’ve done in months. From a glittering turquoise playsuit that made me look like a (rather leggy) mermaid to a sequined gold and black bra with teeny-tiny shiny hot-pants to match, through to this Marilyn-esque sparkling number with a slit up one side definitely verging on the obscene, it was 48 hours of spangled mayhem. Around me were eight other brilliant women, all similarly attired. Where were we: some fancy party? A club?
Nope. Just a pretty little house on the Welsh coast with austere portraits of old women in the living room, shelves full of books with faded spines, and driftwood sculptures everywhere. This house backed onto the beach. A quick hop over the wall and we were standing on pebbles. Both days as the sun set, the skies were soaked with pink and orange - our very own, live Turner painting. All of us had made our way there from various parts of the country, ready to celebrate our friend Flo’s birthday - to dance, cook, read, play scrabble, drink gin in the sunshine, and, most importantly, to dress up.
Oh, the dressing up! Alongside all those sequins there were wigs, hats, lashings of eyeliner, boob tubes, and enough faux fur to start a small fake animal convention. And with each costume change, I felt slightly altered too. I lounged around in my long gown. I danced energetically in grey palazzo pants and a silver space-age bikini top. Many of the items we’d brought with us migrated between various people over the course of the two nights. It was fascinating: seeing how different the same dress could look on three different figures, accompanied by three different attitudes. No, more than fascinating. Freeing.
In fact, being in the company of a bunch of women who were equally dynamic and interesting, each of us with our own, particular strengths, abilities, and body shapes, was fucking fantastic. A tonic. A delight. A state of affairs good for both body and soul. Well, maybe more for soul. My liver wasn’t very happy with me come Saturday morning… When we all left again on Sunday though I felt lighter on my toes: fizzing at having being surrounded by great people with a similar love for the ridiculous and the decadent (and the ability to cook a bloody good curry, too).
I’ve been thinking these last few days (ok, that’s a lie, for the last few months, really. No, scrap that too. For the last few years) about the pure, raucous pleasure found in dressing up. We do it so naturally as children, transforming ourselves into witches, pirates, royals and orphans with no more than a quick costume change and a healthy dose of imagination. At that age, every garment is full of stretching possibility.
As we grow up these transformations still exist, but they’re often subtler: varied facets of ourselves developed (and clad) as we switch between work, friends, partying, dating, long walks, late nights, holidays, festivals, bedrooms. Often these categories come with their own, slightly tweaked sartorial characters – our ‘work’ selves existing independent from our ‘breezy summer weekend’ or ‘dressed to kill and ready for cocktails’ or ‘suit-clad for a poetry reading’ selves (ok, those three are just me). All are different ways of manipulating image, and playing around with how others perceive us.
But I’ll forever and always remain a fan of out and out dressing up: of raiding wardrobes/ boxes/ rails/ shelves/ vanity cases/ wherever else you keep your finery, and shimmying on something fabulous just because you can. Because it’s fun. Because we could all do with a few more of those genuine flashes of joy that come with having on the silliest and most wonderful of get-ups.
See, dressing up is a powerful force – one that can be radical and limitless, as well as just being an opportunity for some silly fun. It can be political. It can be full of pleasure. Whether it’s a weekend in sequins; a session of running rampant in the wardrobe with a good friend; assembling a seventies-inspired outfit for a blog post complete with a new maxi-dress and some tumbling hills behind; or an evening spent in your room just by yourself, dancing around in your underwear to the loudest possible music while trying on combination after combination of clothes – well, the potential is endless.
I bought this dress from the Beyond Retro in Brighton last month. I saw it on a hanger, didn’t try it on, then ended up dashing back the next day just before my train because it was playing on my mind so! The suede coat is from a car-boot sale, and the heeled boots are vintage. Now that the weather’s a bit better, I’ve been really getting back into the fun of dressing up for the blog too.
On a separate note, a quick reminder that I’m appearing alongside my incredibly well-dressed mum at Oxford Literary Festival this Saturday at 2pm to talk books, mothers and daughters, and whether writing runs in the family. If you're a concession, you can use the code StHilChil as well. Hope to see some of you there!