I remember when getting dressed was easy because it meant nothing. I was six. I wore pink jeans, pink shoes and a pink knitted sweater with white bunnies on it that my grandmother made for me. I wore this outfit because I liked it. Liking it is where my outfit choice started and ended. It was a simple time.
But things have changed. I became a preteen, a teen and then a woman. Getting dressed has meaning in this womanly world. It plays a big part in everything from employment to sex appeal to my emotional happiness with my body and myself. Sometimes clothes can take a woman over. Our closets overflow with designer hand-me-downs from our mothers, meaningless H&M finds and more ill-fitting jeans than one can count. We stare into this void of fabric, contemplating the perfect combination for whatever the occasion. Clothes matter. This is a First World problem, but I live in the First World and this is the fashion issue, so save your political freak-outs for later. I’m about to talk about clothes for the next 600 words. Flip the page if you think you are “too good” for this (news flash: you are not).
When I went to a school-funded sleep-away camp in Grade 3 (and again in Grade 6), they gave us a checklist for packing our belongings. The checklist told us exactly how many socks, underwear, sweaters and pants to bring. We would need one rain jacket and maybe a warm fleece. Boots, for the canoeing. Bug repellent. Toiletries, the essentials like toothbrush, toothpaste, a washcloth. It narrowed down every item so that even if your parents were totally uninvolved in your life, all they needed to do was help you check off the little boxes on the list and you would be set. When Grade 6 came, the list got a bit more complicated. Some girls had their periods. Toiletries expanded, but no one discussed it. Bras and tampons were not added to the checklist, but we all knew. Those of us who didn’t need maxi pads yet felt inept when it came time to unpack our bags at our bunks.
Clothes are important because they are what we use to cover our bodies and make a first impression. I’m not packing for sleep-away camp anymore, but I am constantly packing for tour (and the occasional business trip). Being a female musician is a special thing. Tour packing becomes an event, a contest you never, ever want to lose.
Being onstage is a weird thing in the sense that fashion and music have always been connected. How many rock stars have been muses for designers? Too many to count. Remember when runway models wore flannel tied around their tiny waists because Cobain rebranded the lumberjack look? Look at Grace Jones. The Ramones? Aaliyah made Tommy Hilfiger cool.
Can we please take a minute and realize that even the act of not caring about what a rock star wears onstage eventually turns into a trend (if that rock star is worth his/her salt). The funny thing about punk style is that when it first started it was about opposing the norm, but then punk style became a thing. It became a message and not just about smashing authority with spikes and leather, but about being cool because you ripped your shirt. Punk style had meaning, but that meaning has been spread and changed. If you don’t believe me, read Dick Hebdige’s book Subculture: The Meaning of Style. Music inspires fashion. Fashion inspires music. It’s full circle.
When I pack for tour, my biggest concern is packing light. One thing about style is that it’s really hard to do style in light doses. Real geniuses of style (my good friend Andrea Lukic of the band Nü Sensae is the only woman I know with true style who can pack light) don’t need a lot to pull a tight look, but that takes true confidence. People who stand onstage have confidence because they have to. The stage gives you no choice.
Tour has no checklist. You bring what makes you feel the most comfortable. You bring gear you can sweat and play in, you bring comfortable things to wear when you sit in the van and you bring baby powder for your hair. Claire Boucher (of Grimes) and I once had an insightful conversation about the weird expectations of touring and “the stage look.” People always expect you to look great onstage — sexy and glamorous — but this is really insane considering tour means that you spend eight hours sitting in a cramped van eating McDonald’s. You have no place to “get ready.” No bathroom other than the gas station or dressing room (if you are lucky). That’s why so many musicians turn to the whole dishevelled thing. It’s not by choice. It’s circumstantial. Then, the fashion industry makes it purposeful and you open up a Glamour magazine and find out that matted hair is cool and sexy.
When I pack for tour, I try to channel my inner six-year-old. I try to pack what I like. I try to make it start and end at that, but it seldom works. It’s complicated. Since when did clothes matter so much? I long for a simple time.