When I take pictures that show how much I care about image and clothing and post them on Instagram, I am in no doubt that I invite people to think me vain and shallow. I don’t feel any need to justify what I do, and in fact, if more people (especially men) took some time to present a good version of themselves as opposed to not caring what they look like, then I’m all for vanity. In fact, I would posit that creating an image, a persona, an avatar, an alter ego (such as one does on social media) is an act of existentialism. The clothing we wear is significant in how we choose to exist and move through the world.
I’m a philosophy nerd, maybe because I never studied philosophy formally. However, due to my terrible memory I often forget which theory was espoused by which white European male and I have to resort to the Dummies Guides or to ‘popular’ philosophers such as Alain de Botton to save me from the dense thicket of academic philosophy. One theory that did stick with me and which has particular relevance for my Wicked Jade persona is existentialism and the work of Jean Paul Sartre. Sartre said that people mould themselves into social roles – such as the Grocer, the Parisian Waiter, the Businessman – and take on the mannerisms of that role. I would add that we also fit our image and presentation into the straitjacket of that role.
I work in the corporate, legal and tech world where there are rules and standards, even in the tech sector – places that are full of archetypes and a fair amount of groupthink when it comes to appearances. I’m also a mother of small children, a role that comes with its own codes of behaviour and dress.
Sartre said that humans are not pre-defined by a blueprint, and instead we choose and make ourselves by acting. When we play a role, we become the role. Dress someone as a nurse and they become more compassionate. Dress them as a policeman and they become more authoritarian. If that’s true, then when I dress all fierce and badass à la Wicked Jade, am I projecting my inner fierceness and badassery, or my desire to become more fierce and badass? Either way, my alter ego wears those clothes in order to assume her character. I take on that character and become that person. It’s an act of self-actualisation.
Clothing also functions as a uniform of a tribe – the Business Person, the Mother. One can either wear the uniform to conform to that group, or refuse to wear it, or wear another’s uniform. Fashion has been defying the conventional ever since there were fashion trends and visionary designers. The example that most easily springs to mind is punk fashion and Vivienne Westwood, rocking and toppling the establishment to this day. The whole ‘alternative fashion’ scene derives its raison d’être from subverting the mainstream and largely homogenous Western fashion standard. However, “alt” is a tribe of itself and has its own uniform.
The contrarian in me likes to challenge what is ‘appropriate’ in a given context. To be “alternative” in fashion, by definition, requires a standard by which to compare. This is why I often say that wearing latex to a fetish party is a rather lazy costume option unless you’re a true rubber fetishist and are willing to commit 100% to your fetish by donning it from head to toe. Latex is simply a material that has been co-opted by the tribe as a badge of kink. Wear some of it in a setting where it is not expected and perhaps then you can claim to be more interesting. When I go to fetish or kink events nowadays I’m often one of the few NOT in latex if I can think of a suitably theatrical, outrageous AND sexy alternative outfit. If I just want to fit in, I’ll simply pop on a latex dress or skirt, the fetish uniform.
For me, to display a flash of bondage-style underwear, or to wear a harness under a tailored jacket, or to throw in a bit of latex, whilst attending to my roles of a corporate professional and a middle-aged mother, means that I’m actively engaging with my clothing – thinking about the role(s) I want to play and how much I want to break the rules of the uniform assigned to my roles. My intention is to trigger a micro-response in those that engage with me. I want to send a subtle message. That I am fierce, bold and willing to stand up and stand out. That I contain multitudes within me and I don’t fit into an easy category. I challenge them to really see me and judge me on my individual qualities. I claim my freedom to exist other than in the narrow role that society has fashioned for me.