Last night I had the pleasure of watching my talented wife perform on stage in a play. She was playing a queen in a fairy tale. The role seemed to come naturally for her. This shouldn’t be surprising, though, since she is of course the Queen of our daily home life. Depending on the day, I get to be the King or the Fool.
When she first walked on stage, I had a surprise moment of recognition as I admired her costume: she was wearing her wedding dress. Now before you imagine some large, lacy, puffed up, peacock-in-white like image, and wonder how that would possibly look on stage as a queen in a fairy tale, let me say my wife had a very simple wedding dress. Actually she had two simple wedding dresses since we had two weddings. Actually we had four weddings if you want to get technical. One in an amphitheater up on a mountain in Colorado dressed up like cowboys; one in a Romanian Orthodox church dressed up like good Christians; one in the local city hall of Bremen dressed up like law-abiding citizens; and finally one in TheaterSpace wearing a combination of the previous costumes to celebrate with those who missed the first three chances and where we promised to never get married again!
So when I first saw her onstage in wedding dress number one, a simple, flowing, creme-colored gown, I was transported back to the joy of the moment when I first saw her on our wedding day when she was a vision of radiance. But here the dress was suddenly serving a new purpose in a new combination. Since the play was done in an anachronistic style because there was no budget for real period costumes, she also put on a black suit jacket to give her queen character some ruling class, business edginess atop her overall elegance. A small, sparkling headband she wore from our last never-again-wedding in TheaterSpace made her look appropriately regal.
Seeing this reminded me of an age-old truth of how costume changes can have a dramatic impact both on stage and off. You’ve probably heard the adages, ‘You have to dress the part’ or ‘Dress for success’ or ‘Dress for the job you want, not for the job you have’. Like it or not, the clothes we wear, our daily costumes, project images to the outside world that people will associate with one thing or another. It’s why uniforms exist. How else would we recognize who is a policeman or a fireman or the fry guy at McDonald’s?
I’ve worn many costumes in my life. In addition to all the theater fun I’ve had over the years where I’ve had the joy of wearing tights and wigs and ludicrous outfits of all kinds, I’ve had forty-seven different jobs in my life, all with their own particular needs in terms of what I had to wear for functional and identification purposes. There are world’s of difference between being a stage hand or a vegetable vendor or a lady shoes salesman. Yes, I sold ladies shoes, which also taught me just how much a pair of high heels can transform a woman from feeling frumpy and fat to sexy and stylish.
See it’s not just about how clothes change the way the outside world perceives us, more importantly, it changes how we perceive ourselves. I have an interesting job right now running the non-academic life of a university campus, overseeing a wide array of extra-curricular activities as well as the overall residential system. Everyday is different, and sometimes I find myself changing costumes multiple times during the workday to make myself feel right for the various parts I play during the day. I have a closet in my office where I have a couple of stock items at the ready: a nice dark blue blazer if there’s a more formal meeting with external guests; a casual sports coat for internal meetings with colleagues where I feel the need to have some business-like formality; a collegiate hoody with the university logo for informal activities and meetings with students where I want them to be at ease and not see me as ‘a suit’. The challenge is making sure I wear the right shirt and trousers each day that I can mix and match as needed with the various tops. Will there be an important meeting where a ironed and collared shirt would be most appropriate? Or will I be just working with my team and students and can wear a fun t-shirt?
In addition to this I keep a pair of dress shoes in the closet which I pop on and off as needed based on the level of formality. Over in the theater scene shop I have a set of grubby workmen’s clothes I put on to literally get my hands dirty as I continue to build the venues with students. In short, sometimes I dress to impress, sometimes I dress to make a mess. The trick is to not see the change of costumes as a burden, but the chance to reinvent yourself for a bit, to play another part on the world’s stage. It can actually help motivate you if you approach it right.
Don’t feel like going to the gym or jogging? Well just put on your sports costume and running shoes and see how that makes you feel. You’ll be surprised how quickly the person who didn’t feel athletic, will feel an increased heart rate and adrenalin and run right out the door.
Now it’s time for me to get out of my lazy Sunday afternoon writing costume and get ready for some dinner guests. Hmm, how formal shall I be this evening? I guess I’d better ask my Queen.