The Art of Overdressing

People should overdress more. Or at least have the option. Jeans and tank tops are infiltrating the opera, and it doesn't feel appropriate to wear dramatic outfits very many places.
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People should overdress more. Or at least have the option. Jeans and tank tops are infiltrating the opera, and it doesn't feel appropriate to wear dramatic outfits very many places.

I've loved to dress up since I was little. I had really complex games in my head that required dressing up. I was a snow queen. I was an elfin warrior princess. My characters had detailed back-stories. They had developed love interests. They could speak fluently in languages I'd never learned. Kidding.

Being a homeschooler, I always stood out. Sometimes it was because I didn't understand fashion. Homeschoolers often have their own take on subjects like these. At thirteen, my best friend thought the hottest outfit imaginable was a bikini under overalls. I thought jeans with peace signs all over them were amazing. Especially if my shirt had a lot of peace signs on it too.

As a kid, I stood out, and it was fine, because all of the other homeschoolers thought I was extremely fashionable and cool, and I didn't really have occasion to interact with a huge group of school kids (they're really rather nice when you get one or two on their own). In college I learned the art of blending in. It was hard. It required many intensive training sessions with an ancient master. But I was dedicated. And sometimes I succeeded in disappearing. I wore jeans without peace signs and cute, form-fitting tank tops. Once I slipped up and went to class in a sweeping purple skirt with tiny silver bells sewn into the hem and a gold-embroidered top, but most of the time I was good.

A few evenings ago, my fiancé and I went out, and I felt like dressing up. I put on a clingy dress and ridiculous strappy gold heels. I was completely overdressed. My fiancé said, "Wow, no one here is dressed up." I started to feel awkward -- the ancient master had taught me well -- but then, gently, I began to feel something else entirely. I felt good about being overdressed. About standing out. About being obvious.

Sometimes one of my friends will say, "I wonder what it was like, you know, a long time ago, when women wore dresses all the time." No one really wants to go back to that time (whenever it was; pick a random historical period over a hundred years ago), except maybe for some men who are really misogynistic. And people who find indoor plumbing superfluous. But there's something kind of amazing about the ability those women had to wear some seriously extreme dresses on a daily basis. And not even just the wealthy women. There's something great about the amount of attention that was paid to outfits. At the same time, wearing an incredibly detailed dress back then probably wouldn't have stood out at all. Now we have the freedom to wear both amazing dresses and completely schlumpy clothes. We should exercise our rights on both ends of the spectrum. And more than that, we should exercise our right to look surprising.

Maybe I still don't understand fashion. It's very subtle. It changes quickly. Gap suggests that people should wear jean shirts with jeans of the same color. I definitely don't understand that. The Diesel campaign suggests that people should be as stupid as possible. American Apparel dresses its models only in a piece of lace.

Maybe I haven't actually mastered fitting in as much as I think I have, but I haven't completely embraced standing out either. I do know this much, though: being overdressed is fun. You have to pull it off with confidence. You have to walk with your shoulders back, like you planned it. Like you're dressed up because you live a dramatic, impressive life. I mean, why not? Maybe you do. I spend too much time feeling self-conscious about little, unimportant things. Maybe I'll buy a peace sign. Nah. I'm over those. How about a bright red dress? I'll wear it to the grocery store.

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