If I could have a second skin, I’d probably dress up in you. – Belle & Sebastian
"Just look at the way you’re walking," my mother says, "In your head, you’re obviously wearing a skirt and heels. When did you turn into a skirt-and-heels girl?"
She’s right about the way I walk. But she should know that I’ve always been "like this", at least since age three.
I’ve spent my whole life dressing up in my head. My outfits have always been costumes, even when no one else can see them – like in that photo.
My earliest style choice was that since I was a princess, it would be completely inappropriate for me to wear jeans to day care. I had never seen a princess wearing jeans, and I firmly believed that I should stick with tradition.
Then my grandmother explained to me that I wasn’t a princess, because my parents were not royal.
This was quite devastating, but after a short identity crisis and a very scary trip to Salem, I realized that I must be a witch.
And if I was going to be a witch, I was going to be Angelica Huston in Witches. I was terrified of her. Not when she turned into the High Witch – that was just a mask, duh! – but when she was undercover evil, like this.
Since black clothing for four-year-olds was hard to find in 1990, my mother helped me dye some of my outfits. And add silver paint. I guess you could say I went through the goth phase early. If I hadn’t gotten that out of my system pre-kindergarten, I might look like this every day now:
While I was playing witch, my mother had just miraculously survived the 70s and 80s (she wore a polka-dotted, shoulder-padded jumpsuit). She basically let me wear whatever I wanted in the 90s (including an apron and a veil for, say, grocery shopping), within the limits of my family’s student budget and my life style. My life style was supposed to involve sand boxes and finger paint, but I refused to conform. Still, my outfits had to allow for a certain degree of messiness, so my mother insisted on sensible shoes. Here’s where I stopped wearing dresses and skirts for a while. The skirts with sneakers look was not OK. I explained this to my mom – and started wearing pants.
My mother sent me to drama class, so I could wear costumes in a more appropriate setting. At age five, the youngest actors were supposed to play monsters. I hesitated – evil was a good role for me, ugly and furry not so much. Since the five-year-olds had a lot of creative control over their own performance, I decided to be the princess of the monsters, meaning I would wear a dress and rule over all the ugly, furry kids.
And so I began my acting career, which I now remember as a series of characters that I got really into. I was the kind of annoying drama class child who stays in character during intermission and all the way home. And the more spectacular the costume, the better. If I was playing a girl from the country, I designed a cowgirl-inspired skirt and vest. Playing the woman who faints when Dr. Jekyll turns into a monster was an excuse to alter an old cocktail dress to fit a little girl, and then add feathers and pearls and heaps of costume jewellery.
My mom’s love of sewing, knitting and jewellery-making was fantastic for me. I didn’t realize until later that not all the parents could make butterfly wings and dove’s wings, let alone understand that there was a difference, and that a little girl needed to have both of these outfits in her wardrobe. Even now, I need to give my mom credit for coming up with most of my theme party outfits, including what will probably be my 2009 Halloween costume (plus she made me a maid of honor dress I love and want to wear all the time).
But I was never a princess for Halloween. I never had a pink phase. I stopped being a princess when I was four and faced the reality of being the daughter of a business school student, not a king.
And years later, when I worked at the ballet supply store LaDanse, my favorite customers were the little girls who specifically asked for black ballet shoes. I think I’m still more drawn to the dark, mysterious villainwear, rather than the pastel princess costumes. But I have accepted that people will insist on seeing me as "sweet" anyway. I don’t think I can look provocative in any way if I try.
Helen Gorden writes in The Guardian that "a lot of dressing up takes place inside the head and not in front of the mirror; choosing a new outfit is about the associations it provokes as well as the way it looks." That is so true.
Even at age four, I knew I couldn’t pull off evil the way Angelica Huston could. And I’m not going to try now either. But somehow, the idea of dressing up as a witch to go to kindergarten eventually translated into little black dresses and red lipstick – and no desire to be blond or tan.
And even now, sometimes it helps to step out of my apartment knowing that I’m actually an undercover grand high witch.
I love acting. It is so much more real than life. – Oscar Wilde
By the way, more posts about the childhood version of Julie: