Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Wearing the Trousers

I was named after Rosalind from As You Like It. As far as female Shakespeare characters go, I think my parents picked well. No sudden, tragic deaths a la Ophelia or Cordelia. No whirlwind romance and bad, adolescent decision-making, like Juliet. No nunhood and preservation of purity, as with Isabella, or treacherous rivalry, exemplified best by Goneril and Regan (just imagine naming your poor child Goneril: imagine). No bastard partners who drug and humiliate their loved ones either (Titania), or murderous, manipulative instincts (Lady Macbeth), or possibility of being strangled in my sleep when falsely accused of being unfaithful (Desdemona).

No, I got the wise-cracking, sharp-talking, smart, assertive one. The independent woman who makes fun of silly men, sets herself up as a matchmaker, and (literally) wears the trousers. Bloody delightful. The other main option my parents had toyed with was Miranda. Another good choice, sure, but somewhat lacking Rosalind’s sass and grit. Miranda has spent all of her life on a remote island with her father and a variety of disenfranchised magical figures. Not quite my style, much as I love The Tempest.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Shakespeare recently: not a sentence I was expecting to write for a while post-university, I must admit. But I mainly have Margaret Atwood to thank, given that I spent Boxing Day firmly entrenched in her book Hag-Seed: an utterly delicious re-telling of The Tempest, complete with prisons, controlling theatre directors, power lost and won, and a healthy side order of revenge.

As with Angela Carter’s Wise Children, detailing the escapades of twin sisters Dora and Nora Chance in the world of showbiz (it’s stuffed full of disguises, double-crossings, and moments of melodramatic revelation, and oh I love it), Atwood’s Hag-Seed achieves that very wonderful thing of making me feel overjoyed by Shakespeare all over again. It’s raucous. It’s buoyant. And it has enough depth and pathos to not get too carried away. Both are books that sit, brim-full of life, making me want to dive back into the original plays, and think about their continuing implications.

In fact, as Obama said in this recent interview about his eight years of reading in the White House, “Shakespeare continues to be a touchstone… foundational for me in understanding how certain patterns repeat themselves and play themselves out between human beings.” His comment is both so comforting and so galling, given that his successor seems to be intent on doing an Angelo (from Measure for Measure): being a man “drest in a little brief authority” who wants to exert unwarranted power over other people’s bodies, while exempting himself from any kind of moral code. What a time (and what a reason to march on Saturday).

Under nicer circumstances, I’ve also been thinking a lot about suits recently. That I can probably blame in part on Evan Rachel-Wood looking so full of self-assurance at The Golden Globes, embodying an ethos my sage friend Sarah Griffin deemed “all tux, no fucks.” It’s such a good phrase. I have nothing to add to it. All the attitude you need is held in those four syllables.

The next day, I began collating images of women and non-binary people who looked devastatingly good in suits. You can see the images on Twitter here (and some fun responses from those who took issue with my description of said outfits as devastatingly good). They include Amandla Stenberg as a vision in crimson satin, Eva Green looking enviably great in green velvet, and Bianca Jagger all louche and glamorous in white. Michelle Obama, Janelle Monae, and Tilda Swinton dressed as David Bowie all figure too, of course.

I wrote a few months ago about the power to be found in suits – about the part physical, part cultural, entirely confidence-enhancing effect of donning a good jacket and trousers. They transform posture, and tap into such a rich web of images and iconic figures. Suits stretch from Frida Kahlo to Erin O'Connor. They encompass my continuing hero Katharine Hepburn (who, in 1951, was asked to leave the Claridge's lobby for having the audacity to be female AND wear slacks). Beyond all that, if cut well, they allow you to move with extra ease.

I’ve been living by my words since then, busy swishing around events in blue velvet and eyeing up what I spend my money on next (dear lord, please let it be silver and sequined like this exquisite number). We’ll see. But for now, here’s a shoot from early autumn, back when the fields were still golden stubble and the grey, damp days were yet to descend. I pinned up my hair and hopped around the hay bales in my late granddad’s trousers and a vintage dress shirt, with the blazer – Superdry, no less - given to me by my favourite vintage dealer as a leaving Oxford present. It’s months ago now, but I can still recall the feeling. I felt terrific. More than that: I felt capable and a little playful too, bow tie and all. Besides, I was possibly the most glamorous thing ever to pose next to all that farm machinery too. 
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