Dress Code

A few weeks ago I was slowly but surely transcribing interview data from my chat with US faux queen Brandi Amara Skyy. I thought it was interesting to notice a point that the two of us disagreed on, or at least had differing experiences of.

Ever since I started primary school I have felt social pressure to suppress a part of my personality which I will call for the purpose of this blog “flamboyant expression”. I believe that this feeling of suppression started when I began year 1 in school, cooled off a bit when I did my Bachelor’s degree, and reached an unbearable peak when I was working a full time job.

Brandi said she couldn’t recall feeling pressure to suppress aspects of her personality which align with faux queen identity at any point in her life.

I’m curious to consider what socio-cultural factors in my life might contribute to this pressure to suppress.

First, in Australia most schools require you to wear a uniform. My school was a little bit posh so we had 5 different uniforms for various occasions and rules regarding hairstyle, jewellery, makeup, dress length, sock length and brand of shoe. In the balmy Queensland winter we even wore totally unnecessary gloves. Punishments ensued if students wore their uniform incorrectly, especially if caught doing so outside of the campus grounds.

This was the first time when very specific rules were placed on my daily appearance, and to be honest when I was a little girl in primary school I don’t really remember feeling annoyed about it at all. However it is interesting to note that decisions about my appearance were made for me from a very young age along with consequences if I was to disobey the rules, which I found terrifying.

Of course when puberty kicks in, uniformed students want to push the patience of teaching staff (even at posh schools). I had moved to another posh school by then, but this one also had boys. I was always a bit frightened of punishments so I didn’t break the rules in any way that was going to get me in big trouble. I’d try wearing little contraband things to see how long I could keep them for. I’m sure there is a box lying about in lost and found full of big flower hair clips, glittery headbands, ankle bracelets and shimmery lip gloss collected from my group of friends in high school. In year 10 it became popular for girls to wear men’s boxers under their school dresses. If my memory serves me correctly mine were South Park boxers.  

Free dress days were always a thrill and I would spend far too much time shopping and trying to decide what to wear. We used to joke that American kids must have so much stress and anxiety about what to wear to school each day even though we desperately wished we could be them. We would reassure ourselves that without uniforms there would definately be more bullying. I think, however, wearing uniforms might have meant we missed out on something with regards to dress & identity in highschool.

At my school, at least Monday to Friday between 8.30am and 3pm, there were no recognisable Goths, nor punks, nor skater kids, nor cheerleaders, nor jocks, nor glee-type people, nor any of the other groups we were familiar with on American TV. There was just a bunch of kids in the same uniform with similar hair. There was bullying, of course; only the lucky few looked attractive in our shapeless sack uniform, and those of us with pimples could not always find solace in concealer. Sure, some kids were able to scrape together a recognisable social group (I recall a very secret type of one with, I believe, seven involved); but to the un-initiated, to the unaware, we were just a bunch of kids in the same uniform.

In our ugly sack uniforms did we miss out on some formative years for identity?    

When I finished school and started my bachelor’s degree, appearance became an important way to express my personality. Suddenly out came the faux-fur, the heals, the big sunglasses, and the sequins! I often looked ridiculous but who cares, I felt like me and that felt good! University was the perfect place for me, a product of the Australian uniformed school system, to test out some flamboyant expression. Unfortunately, however, I did eventually let one person’s judgement change how I made myself appear. I put away the eye-catching attire so not to embarrass a person I was romantically involved with at the time.

I put that appearance away for him and it crept further and further to the back of my closet when I started a full time job. Here I was subject to many of the same rules that I had become accustomed to as a school student; however this time I didn’t feel it was entirely fair. There were quibbles about my shoes and my hair colour and I was instructed to be less fashionable. I found this all very confusing especially because in my opinion I was dressing more conservatively than ever before, and with barely any consideration for fashion. Yet to my amazement I was regularly told to tone it down and dress like the others. I often grumbled to my friends, “Tone what down? I can’t get any more toned down unless I start shopping at Millers and wearing long underwear. Unlike everyone else at that place I’m still in my 20s and don’t see why I can’t show my elbows!”

It’s only been since I came back to university that I’ve felt comfortable to explore flamboyancy again; and certainly this time I’m taking it much further and having a lot of fun with it.

All those years of rules, consequences and punishments don’t melt away so easily though. A whole life of packing your flamboyant expression (or maybe I can call it my cultural queerness) into a dress up box is not an easy thing to suddenly unpack and hang up next to your work clothes.

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