“Don’t wear beige – it might kill you,” the flamboyantly dressed artist, Sue Kreitzman, once famously said. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, it seems, would disagree. This week, newspapers reported that 26-year-old Eliza Vincz was turned away at The Met (they of the world famous, er, costume ball) because she happened to be wearing an 18th-century lace corset and blue taffeta crinoline. “One of the security ladies rudely came up to me and was badgering me, saying I can’t have art pieces in the museum,” Vincz said afterwards. At first, Vincz was suspected of having stolen the costume, but after it was clearly established the frock was rightfully hers she was denied entry anyway, despite there being no official dress code at the museum. “I felt like a criminal in the one place where I get a lot of the inspiration for my clothing,” Vincz, who is a cosplay enthusiast, said later.
I applaud Vincz and anyone in 2018 who decides to wander out to an exhibition dressed at Marie Antoinette, or to Pizza Express as General Custer, to the butcher’s as Boudicca, or to meet their new boyfriend’s parents’ dressed trilby to spatz in Huggy Bear’s finest. The world needs more unconventional dressers, not fewer of them – especially now, when it seems so relentlessly bleak. And, yet, the bonkersly-or-even-just-unusually-dressed seem rarer in 2018 than at any other time in recent memory. I was sitting in a coffee shop last week, during half term, surrounded by a dozen or so teenage girls. As I watched them laugh, joke and chat, something struck me. Every single one of them had the same hair – long, straight, flicky with no fringe – and identical clothes: checked shirts, denim skirts and Jack Wills hoodies. They all looked glorious and vibrant and happy, but… all almost exactly the same. Youth is often about finding your tribe and wanting to fit in, of course, but it’s also about experimentation, self-expression and having bags of fun, even when it sometimes means looking a bit crap (yes, I am justifying my lightning-bolt-cheeks-and-velvet-corset phase – what of it?). I hoped at least one girl, boy or other at school was daring to be different because, while there’s nothing wrong with following trends, those who go against them are a precious and wonderful thing. They should be encouraged, and certainly not turned away from an artistic and cultural establishment.
It takes considerable confidence and courage to knowingly attract attention wherever you go, patience to field the inevitable comments, digs and questions
Unconventional dressers are among the best things about being British and I sincerely applaud every one of them. I feel immensely cheered when I spot someone at an otherwise dull party wearing an oversized perspex lobster dangling from a chain around their neck, or a local resident standing in a queue at the Co-op in fake fur and a silk turban. I once saw a woman browsing a Brighton flea market in a three-piece man’s suit, beret and monocle, and felt like giving her a round of applause (I stopped her and gushed instead). Goths, flappers, Harajuku, cosplayers, punks and all their related subcultures – I hate to imagine an undoubtedly bland and dull world without them. Or to imagine my young life, had it been spent in designer beige.
Not everyone has the guts to be bold, of course. And that’s perfectly fine. Unconventional dressers are by definition the exception, rather than the rule. Not many of us possess the DGAF attitude required to pop to the cinema in 6in platforms, or sculpt their green hair into pistachio meringue-like peaks, and that’s precisely what makes those who do so great. It takes considerable confidence and courage to knowingly attract attention wherever you go, patience to field the inevitable comments, digs and questions, and a good sense of humour to use your personal style to knowingly make people smile or even laugh. All are valuable characteristics poured into one walking piece of art for us to stop and admire.
What’s more, they inspire us to make slightly bolder choices ourselves. In recent years, adventurously dressed mature women have become popular role models. Iris Apfel, socialite, fashion collector and walking print wardrobe collaborates on everything, from socks to cars, while Advanced Style – Ari Seth Cohen’s rolling portfolio of daringly dressed 60-pluses – is edging close to a quarter of a million Instagram followers. Alessandro Michele’s designs for Gucci – all clashing prints, lurid mismatched colours and eccentric motifs – have not only reversed the Italian house’s fortunes, but influenced the entire fashion and retail industry in the process. Judy Blame, the legendary British fashion visionary, whose avant-garde looks made of safety pins, tiny buttons, feathers, zips and bones were worn by Boy George, Björk and Neneh Cherry, died last week at the height of a huge revival, thanks to Instagram and a host of high-fashion collaborations. Tributes poured in from young people and old.
It seems sadly ironic that when the world seems so keen for something different, the Met, of all establishments, couldn’t see that one happy, bold, adventurous woman in a hoop petticoat wouldn’t lower the tone, but raise their extraordinary exhibit list by one. I would have paid the museum’s price of admission for the sheer joy in seeing her, and hope she swung by the supermarket on the way home.