Thursday, 9 November 2017

Diaphanous








As a teenager, I owned several wedding dresses. Odd, perhaps, especially given that I had no imminent plans to get married. Yet still they hung there in my wardrobe like a ghosts of brides past: the seventies white shiny nylon affair with a high neck and long sleeves with buttons at the wrist; the fifties gateau monstrosity of lace and tiered, starched skirts that itched like an absolute bitch; the sleeveless sixties shift – textured almost like broderie anglaise – with an inbuilt necklace of zig-zag beads.

On top of all that I had the remnants of my paternal grandma’s actual wedding dress: endless lengths of cream lace repurposed into a number of more practical garments including a maxi-skirt, top, and jacket. They were unfathomably elegant, a plastic-wrapped suggestion of another era. Oh, and then there was the satin one – beginning life as a wedding gown, with a bow at the base of the spine and a panel of lace just above the chest – that my mum had dyed (disastrously) pink when she was in her twenties, splotching the fabric in rose and scarlet. It was immediately demoted to my childhood dressing up box, rediscovered with glee as a teen.

All of these garments - some frothy, some silly, some almost chic - made their way onto my blog, often repurposed to more fantastical ends. They were made gothic, ethereal, the stuff of fairytales. For of course, that was the reason I owned them. To me they had no more value or charge than anything else in my vast dressing up box. Each had floated in from charity shops and vintage markets (or were passed down through family), often because they were brilliantly silly or beautiful or suggestive of a good story. Each was a tool: a way of approaching clothes as a costume to shrug on and off, a means of inhabiting and subverting narratives, associations, and various, outlandish characters.

What I obviously recognised then was the particular intrigue that still lingers in a wedding dresses. From teens onwards, women tend to be asked whether they’ve ever considered what their wedding dress might look like, as though we’ve all already marked marriage as a set goal in the future. (FYI mine though, if I do ever find the right woman or man, would probably have to be something thirties and bias cut. That, or a jumpsuit. Or even just a suit. Wouldn’t that be great?!) It’s garment as ritual. Dress up in (one of) its most deified forms. An item of clothing that’s also become a battleground for discussions of sex, gender, equality, expectation, the ways we demarcate adulthood.

No wonder literature is scattered with them – often in deliberately strange or eerie contexts. From Melanie in Angela Carter’s The Magic Toyshop sneaking out of the house in her mother’s wedding attire and coming to harm when she attempts to scale the apple tree (some none too subtle symbolism there) to the infamous Miss Havisham in her decaying splendor, there are plenty of women in white dresses wandering through books. More recently, I read Stephen Benatar’s Wish Her Safe at Home, where a wedding dress becomes a visible, uncomfortable signal of the protagonist’s declining grip on what’s socially acceptable – and, more fundamentally, what’s real.


I ended up reading the latter a few weeks ago while waiting for Artemis Szekir-Regis in the Hill Garden and Pergola on the edge of Hampstead Heath. The light was low, with everything washed gold. It’s a magic space there, like stepping back into some glorious, vine-woven Italian folly from the early twentieth century. When Artemis arrived, she pulled out her camera and a seventies wedding dress from her backpack: a glorious garment that looked the perfect cross-pollination between Kate Bush and the Pre-Raphaelites. I realized it was the first time I’d dressed up in a wedding dress for years. The same thrill was still there, as there always is with any kind of dramatic garment: that chance to inhabit another self for as long as the light lasts, flitting down the walkways in diaphanous white.

Thanks to Artemis for taking such GORGEOUS photos. It was such a wonderful hour of running around catching the last of that soul-lifting sunshine. 




Share:

No comments

© Rosalind Jana | All rights reserved.
Blog Layout Created by pipdig