Wardrobe Malfunctions in Folk
I used to shop for second-hand clothes a lot. If I needed a quick pick-me-up, I’d walk to the nearby Value Village where I’d score a nifty new outfit for only a few dollars.
My neighbour across the street shared my compulsion. On her own trips to “Chez Vivi”, sometimes she’d buy clothes on my behalf. In particular, she liked to give me “special” clothes that she thought “might look good onstage”.
Inevitably these garments were covered with spangles, made of some uncomfortable shiny fabric, or adorned with an animal print. They were not, generally, things I would wear in public…and yet, sometimes I wondered if they’d look completely fabulous onstage and give me a boost of confidence.
But daring wardrobe choices often backfire. For example, once when I wore burgundy faux leather pants to a gig, another performer raised her eyebrows and pointedly suggested that I was taking myself too seriously. Another time, when I wore a dress that may have been too young for me, I was asked (by a performer not unknown for his wit and charm) if I needed a date for the prom.
You can imagine how inappropriate those outfits may have been. Fortunately, you can’t actually see them—unlike other wardrobe mistakes I have made. When we’re performing, sometimes people take pictures of us, which means that fetching ensembles like this one can live forever. With green plaid polyester pants and fuschia floral top, you’d think I was auditioning for “What Not to Wear: Folksinger Edition”.
It’s easy to make wardrobe mistakes. Everybody does it—but not everybody does it quite so publicly. When you’re up on stage, busily playing guitar and singing, you can’t control which way your silky blouse is wafting. Nor can you necessarily control your own thoughts, which may suddenly realize, the moment the lights are on you, that your top is clingy, itchy, ugly or just plain weird. Trust me, that thought will not enhance your performance.
These days, I try to perform only in clothes that I feel 100% great in. I don’t experiment anymore and (not coincidentally) fewer of my stage clothes are purchased at secondhand stores. By “feel great”…I mean “dressed up” to a degree, in a style appropriate to the venue. My clothes must be comfortable, must fit well, and must stay in place when I’m performing. I adjust my bra strap ahead of time. My heels stay low enough that I don’t tip over.
If I wouldn’t wear an outfit for an evening out with friends, I won’t wear it onstage. In other words, I dress for the special occasion that every performance is—without attempting to shape-shift into a completely new identity. Dressing well is about being myself, but at my best.
Because most roots musicians work as independent artists, without a professional team helping us make our choices, it’s easy to make mistakes. We’re encouraged to develop a distinctive style and to step out with confidence…but crafting the right image takes time and care, not to mention money, and sometimes we’re not the best judges of the impression we’re creating. In the absence of a team of professional advisors, I rely on a few trusted friends who are fully committed to my success and who can kindly tell me that the suede boots are great but the poncho must go.
When I see other roots musicians committing occasional wardrobe malfunctions, I remember my plaid polyester pants. We’re truly all in this together, aren’t we? Fortunately, we’re often together in dark little roots music venues, where the lighting is mercifully dim.
Lynn Harrison is a blogger, songwriter and performer based in Toronto.
Photo of Lynn in questionable pants, courtesy Shirley Gibson.