Costume

YOU, ONLY LESS SO

NOTES FROM THE HENGE
A talented actress named Anne
Snagged the lead in the new Peter Pan
But in tights and a tunic
She looked like a eunuch
Disproving that “clothes make the man.”
Not that eunuchs aren’t men, but it fit so well in the limerick I went for it. Apologies to any eunuchs out there. As for what follows below? To paraphrase someone-or-other: “I would’ve written a shorter blog post, but I didn’t have the time.” 

Because fezzes are cool!
YOU, ONLY LESS SO
I’ve wanted to be an actor for as far back as I can remember. And part of that passion was a fascination with transformation. With being a different person. It naturally followed that at a very early age I began experimenting with, you guessed it, hallucinogens. 
Nah, I’m kidding. I experimented with theatrical makeup. I particularly enjoyed “special effects” makeup. I loved creating putty noses, wax chins, fake mustaches, and convincing scars. Anything from subtle tweaks (slightly thicker eyebrows) to the dramatic and monstrous. I was barely out of kindergarten when I freaked out half my neighborhood by trick-or-treating in pretty darned realistic burn-victim makeup. (Even our pet cat was terrified.)
But my absolute favorite thing back then was to age myself. I’d happily spend hours lovingly spraying in streaks of gray hair, stippling on age spots, faking a receding hair line, and either carefully painting trompe l’oeil “stage-worthy” wrinkles one careful brush stroke at a time, or creating “film-worthy” 3-D sagging flesh using liquid latex. I loved making myself old.
Ironically, I now have all those issues for real. Mostly this fact kinda upsets me. Yet sometimes I find myself looking in the mirror and, channeling my inner eight-year-old self, thinking: “How cool! Crows feet! Grey hairs! Lumpyparts!” (Though I never exclaim happily about the encroaching nose and ear hairs. Those just plain suck.)
That interest in character via appearance never left me. As I grew older, it didn’t take long to realize that we all wear “costumes” and “makeup” every day. That we create our own character.
When I moved to LA and signed with my very first commercial agent, I had an eye-opening experience. I actually wish everyone could go through it. The thing is, commercials are mostly about your appearance, so when you go on an audition, you’re going with a bunch of other folks who look just like you. Your exact “type.” It’s sobering. And illuminating. No matter what you think you actually look like, unless you’re a supermodel, it’ll be a shock. 
11-year-old Stoney ages himself.
I vividly remember my first Los Angeles commercial audition, some 18-odd years ago. I walked into the crowded waiting area. It was like entering the Twilight Zone. Everyone sitting there, every single one, was a tall, slightly paunchy, sweet faced, thick-nosed, non-threatening white guy with a warm smile, a bald spot, and a slightly receding hairline. Perfect casting for the gay best friend, kindly next-door neighbor, beleaguered dad, “henpecked” husband, trusted pharmacist, or, maybe in a stretch, the slightly cranky mid-management boss.
Blew me away.
But the thing is, it’s not written in stone. Your “type” can be changed. Played with. That’s what I learned as a kid and still remember today.
No, you can’t change your basic features and body type (unless you have an awesome plastic surgeon — text me!) but you canchange everything else. You can change all the trappings.
Everyone wears a costume. And I get that there’s tons of peer pressure to keep wearing the same one.  You might even get fired if you stray too far from the “uniform” of your particular job’s culture. I grock. But how about changing it up now and then?  It isn’t who you are.  It’s just the role you present to the world. Switch it out, just for fun. 
Any question why this kid doesn’t have a girlfriend yet?
When my first science fiction novel was published years ago, I was invited to a convention to speak on some panels. I remember tearing my closet apart, desperately looking for clothes that a “writer” would wear. I needed an “author costume!” But I didn’t really have anything appropriate (nothing tweed with elbow patches or the like). I wound up in my one-and-only dressy outfit: a tuxedo. Yup. And in the end I had a blast at the convention, looking, completely inappropriately, like a high-priced hit man instead of a writer. I even heartily enjoyed when Harlan Ellison gave me some good-natured sh*t about my outfit. Loved it.
Switch it out. If you usually dress like a hippy horticulturist, try the Hillary Clinton corporate look for a day. If all your buddies dress in polo shirts, loafers, and dockers, show up for their BBQ in skinny jeans, a porkpie hat, and an ironic t-shirt.  Goth chick? Go for southern belle one day. College professor? Try dressing like your students instead. Bearded biker dude? Give the off-duty cop look a shot. Straight-laced exec? Go for the Big Lebowski thing one weekend. Change who the world sees you as.  And who you see yourself as.
Seriously creepy corner of my childhood bedroom
The amazing thing is people will treat you differently. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, but always interesting. (I gotta say this fact actually doesn’t speak well for our culture, but I suppose that’s a whole ‘nother post.) When my wife and I travel, even if the place we’re headed involves cargo shorts and flip-flops, we’ve learned to “fancy it up” for the flight. With her in a nice “conservative” dress and me in a sports jacket and tie, we always get better service on the plane and occasionally even snag an upgrade. We play the game.
Sadly, people of color and the like have a lot less leeway in this “reinvention” area. Having dark skin, Asian features, a thick accent, etc. is, in our culture, already considered a very specific “costume” with all kinds of baggage and preconceptions attached to it. The same goes for women. And the physically challenged. And, of course, those too poor to spring for fun thrift store outfits. Being a (relatively) able-bodied white male with some spare cash I definitely have the advantage as far as character reinvention goes.
But whatever societal or financial limitations you have, shake things up a little anyway. Be a different you this weekend.

Playing dress-up was fun as a kid, right? Why stop? Mess with the world. Mess with your own self image. Scare your cat.

6 thoughts on “YOU, ONLY LESS SO

  1. Anonymous

    My cat was quite frightened by this post, but has taken to wearing a top hat and has procured a monocle, so I have nothing to complain about.

    Reply
  2. Gregory Lawrence Stewart

    Me – I’m going over to Tommy’s to do homework. Mom – On a Saturday? Me – We have a project we’re working on. Mom – Well okay but I know you two can’t be doing homework on a Saturday. Remember what happened the last time you and Tommy got yourself all done up and went to Morris’s department store? Ole Mrs. Web is still talking about how you nearly scared the life out of her in those get ups. She thought you were her relatives from Pennsylvania and I really don’t think you should be pretending to be Amish like that. It’s disrespectful and there may be some sort of law against that. Me – Oh Mom. Tommy and I just do stuff to have fun. Nobody cares. Mom – It’s not Halloween every day you know. Me – Yeah, well why not? Mom – Oh get out of here. You’re going to do what you want to anyway but don’t stay in his room all day playing dress up. Ride your bikes. Get out and get some exercise. Just don’t go riding around town like some Oliver Twist characters.

    Reply
  3. Sari Simon

    Dear Stoney,
    I too confess a penchant for costuming and find myself dressing in accordance with the planned activity or social situation. Having spent a lifetime collecting cool vintage or new but unusual (perhaps odd) apparel I have multiple opportunities to dress inappropriately where-ever I go. Only last night I was critiqued for wearing stockings on a summer night. They were sheer and navy like my purse, shoes, blouse and the embroidery on my dress. I thought I matched. The complaint was that I wasn’t sufficiently exposed and appeared (G-d forbid :) ) religious (apparently a sin in the eyes of the critic). This is funny in part because the complainant wraps phylactories (tefillin) and prays daily but wants to see more exposed flesh than my skinny body finds comfortable and because I’ve often come under fire for the exact opposite offense. So lets make a party and I assure you I will be inappropriately dressed whatever the occasion.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *