“Halloween is the only time people can become what they want to be without getting fired.” ― Sylvester Stallone
Watching two teenage girls dressed “in character” walking through the neighborhood recently, I marveled at the courage it would have taken for me to do that at their age.
Character play was reserved for famous people in movies or on television, for those in a play production, and, as Stallone says, Halloween. These girls, as have many people in recent years, stepped out of the ordinary into the arena, allowing themselves to be represented by a costume for a short period of time. I thought it seemed a bit magical and wonderful.
There was the year I was a tiger and David was something equally scary in a plastic mask. We had a lot of those masks when I was a kid — you know, the ones that left you a sweaty mess. My favorite year, though, I was a gypsy. David was a hobo. Neither of us required a mask, just some heavy makeup and a pretty pink lipstick for me.
While I realize neither of those would be politically correct today, we had so much fun pretending to be someone we weren’t. Hobos were legends, after all, riding on the trains, going from town to town — something we would never “get” to do, which is now understood to be something much different and not necessarily better.
But a gypsy, well, they were storytellers, and I’m a storyteller, so just maybe I was more in line with my costume than I realized. But being in costume happened only on Oct. 31, with the exception of the year I received a red cowgirl hat, vest and boots for Christmas. I’m pretty sure I wore those all year.
Costumes are not something new, you know. In ancient days (think before America existed, please), women weren’t allowed to perform in plays, so men played the parts of male and female characters in stage productions. Later, it became a bit humorous for an obviously masculine man to play the role of a female and not try to disguise his masculinity as had been the case in earlier years. Later still, men embraced dressing in drag, and they still do.
For Halloween costumes specifically, we can go back to the Celts in Ireland and England and to the Catholic Church. Samhain was an end-of-season celebration in Ireland and England, with costumes, and came at the end of October. All Saints Day (for the church) came on Nov. 1, celebrating those who had died.
And somewhere along the way, things seem to have mish mashed and crossed over, because today Americans tend to celebrate the harvest, the costumes and the saints in the same weekend. (This article is not seeking to make sense of any of it or to be entirely accurate with which came when, other than the accuracy of how it all began and where we are today.)
Why spend so much time discussing the history of dressing up? Because today, costumes have taken on a new life, and I needed to remind myself that it isn’t something new or something weird. From the dress-up boxes in the church nursery to Comic Con today, humans like being in costumes, and taking time to understand and appreciate the reasons behind it is a powerful thing for those of us still in our everyday attire.
Dressing up for Comic Con or Dragon Con is something that began around 30 years ago, and if you don’t really understand why people do it, here’s what I found from Psychology Today: some “enjoy the creativity, while others are exploring connection and identity — particularly in connection with a personal interest or hero. Cosplay also has a social component because it facilitates bonding with fellow character enthusiasts.”
Turning to our choice of clothing for a regular day of work, we see that just as costumes affect the way we feel about ourselves, so does our attire for work at an office, for home, or for work from home. In a study from the Association for Psychological Science, we learn that the “formality of clothing” influences the way others perceive a person, how people perceive themselves, and could influence decision making. Do you agree?
When you get up and get dressed for the day in a more formal outfit (not sweatpants or exercise clothes), do you tend to feel more on top of things? I’ll admit I do. And while I love a day in pajamas, I feel more focused on my work when I am “dressed” in a more formal sense.
Somewhere in between the costumes of cosplay (the art or practice of wearing costumes to portray characters from fiction) and the way we feel we are expected to dress in our daily life is where we most likely find ourselves, and I think we need to give ourselves (and others) permission to express ourselves, since how we dress really does affect how we feel about ourselves.
The experts (Leesa Evans, stylist) in fashion and fashion psychology point to a few things to consider when choosing your clothes:
1. Remember a time you felt great about what you wore.
2. What was it about what you wore that made you feel great?
3. Choose your clothes based on your answers above.
4. Stick to what works for you, not what you think the design world is putting out there.
Maybe the company expects you to wear a suit, so you throw in a tie that fits your personality. And the rest of us should applaud. The power of what we wear should not be underestimated. Like those who wear costumes, maybe you can visualize the person you see yourself as and allow your clothing to in some way communicate that to the world around you, and especially to the person you see in the mirror.
Feeling confident begins with feeling good in what you are wearing. And if it’s some fancy underwear no one else sees, so be it.
Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others. She can be reached at (email@example.com).