Something about costume as transformative as an intro – visual only.

Someone once told me that I really suited hats. It was one of those off the cuff comments that I was so egotistically chuffed with that I assimilated it as fact and it became one of my personal aesthetic superpowers, along with my piano player’s hands and my David Sylvian lips.

But my relationship with headgear had got off to a bumpy start. In nursery school I was horrified to be the centre of attention on our homespun production of The Ugly Duckling. The experience was excruciating for two reasons. Firstly there was the narrative of the story to contend with. I had to be shunned by all my nursery school colleagues, playing the local bird community and I just couldn’t deal with the faux rejection and animosity, even as it played out in the relatively humble stage of Mrs. MacAvoy’s front room. Secondly, our Danny Kaye inspired take on the Grimm’s morality tale required me to wear a costume I found unacceptable – a daffodil coloured, oversized tissue paper monstrosity, topped with a massive hat, incorporating a beak. The whole thing was nightmarish.

Another early millinery trauma was this – Easter Bonnet.

Made by my mum Senga, it was a traditional frou frou, sugar frosted uber-feminine bin-lid of a bunnet. And don’t let my Sunday school best and simpering smile fool you, that hat stood in clear opposition to the tom-boy aesthetic I was developing at the time, centered around my love of denim dungarees and Beryl the Peril pig tails. Doris Day might have worn this hat in Calamity Jane for sure, but only after she rejects her cowboy chaps for a corset and decorates her shack with chintz and gingham. Brrrrrrrrr.

Incidentally, being a Doris Day Type is another of my personal aesthetic superpowers, though as this was told to me by Senga, who described my dad Iain as a Robert Redford Type in the same sentence, I’m not exactly sure it is a completely unbiased opinion of my appearance.

Senga wasn’t a natural costumier, but like most mums she spent a lot of time coming up with fancy dress ideas for my various social commitments, and then making them from scratch. Some were designed to avoid any brushes with her ancient, pedal operated Singer sewing machine and were constructed using cardboard boxes as architecture. The Dice. The Christmas Cracker and the Christmas present, all fell into this category, and I liked these because after the initial sweep into the church hall or classroom, you could take off the ‘costume’ part of the outfit, and just hang about in your civvies.

But there was one memorable costume triumph. Our greatest collaboration was a 80s take on the Pierrot – an image popularized at the time by illustrators such as Mira Fujita. This was the kind of image that I had blue-tacked to the inside of my primary school desk, but you could go the whole hog if you wanted.

Bedroom photo.

As you can see plainly from this early footage, I was a talented dancer. I spent two days a week from the age of 5 until I left home to go to university, at Cathy Crawford’s School of Dance. Mostly it was tap that I loved, but early on we also got to wear tutus for the ballet segments of our relentless 5-hour dancing displays. As we got older, the tutu was ditched for a much-hated pink leotard, disliked by nearly all of Cathy’s dancers because it was virtually impossible to wear without the shape of your pants showing through.


Pierrot is a stock character of pantomime and Commedia dell’Arte whose origins are in the late seventeenth-century Italian troupe of players performing in Paris and known as the Comédie-Italienne. The name is a hypocorism of Pierre (Peter). His character in contemporary popular culture is that of the sad clown, pining for love of Columbine, who usually breaks his heart and leaves him for Harlequin. Performing with a whitened face, he wears a loose white blouse with large buttons and wide white pantaloons. Sometimes he appears with a frilled collaret and a hat, usually with a close-fitting crown and wide round brim, more rarely with a conical shape like a dunce’s cap. But most frequently, since his reincarnation under Jean-Gaspard Deburau, he wears neither collar nor hat, only a black skullcap.

The discarded tutu was the inspiration for Senga’s genius here. By cutting out the crotch and hanging it around my neck it became the perfect ruff for the Pierrot costume. Headgear here was the cut off foot of a pair of black tights. The result was impressive – the only instance of cross-dressing seen that year at the Newlands South Brownie Halloween party, and the only costume competition that I ever won.

Some costumes never get old it would seem, and you can buy Pierrot outfits for children and adults on ebay for as little as a fiver.

Pierrot and geisha illustration

Another super-popular choice for fancy dress remains The Geisha.

It’s a go-to costume for the woman who has rejected the overt sexiness of the cat or bunny and yet can’t quite bring herself to look as ugly as a witch. I mean, you might be at a costume party, but you still wanna look hot, right?

Wiki definition image

The Western fascination with the geisha has much to do with the apparent impossibility of understanding what on earth she is. Wikipedia isn’t even able to adequately summarize key points of her contents. This is partly due to the complicity of the geisha roll but also deeply connected to the Japanese attitude to reality and entertainment, something that is pretty tricky to translate.

Ian Buruma says in his 1984 book A Japanese Mirror (and I’m paraphrasing here), ‘few Japanese confuse public playacting with reality, but everyone is agreed about its importance. One must play the public game, or be excluded from it, which to most Japanese would mean living death. In other words, pretense is an essential condition of life. In Japan the expression for this is ta-te-mae – the façade, the public posture, the way things ought to be. The opposite of tatemae is honne – the private opinion or emotion which in normal circumstances remains hidden.

While in Japan women have few emotional outlets, for men there is play or entertainment. This functions as a ritualized breaking of taboos that are sacrosanct in everyday life. Play is the spectacle, the masquerade and to break away from public identities, people take part in entertainments (such as no theatre) which involve masks, costumes and cross-dressing. In Japan, play has ritual, symbolic meaning.

The geisha is the ‘clearest case of life and theatre overlapping. The geisha is the ultimate doll-woman, a human artwork of entirely constructed aesthetic gesture. She is symbolic of the Japanese sense of beauty and everything she does is stylised according to strict aesthetic rules. Her ‘real-self’ is completely concealed behind her professional persona. Like Kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers she bears the name of an illustrious predecessor and her distinguishing physical features are invisible under her make up and costume.

The geisha still exists, but it is hardly a popular career choice these days. Only a tiny minority of extremely wealthy men can afford geisha a-so-bi (to play with geisha) and most contemporary customers don’t know the rules of geisha asobi anyway. What started as a theatrical version of life has become pure theatre and the male players are no longer able to fully participate. A geisha party is now a very, very expensive time machine.

Use BR geisha footage here

Which of course is why Ridley Scott used the image of the geisha to sell products in his decrepit 2019 L.A. They are symbols who transgress the boundaries of Japanese culture and are emblematic of wealth, artistic expertise and of course, sexual availability, even romance, within a fixed system of capitalist exchange.

In Japan now, club hostesses and bar workers have taken the place of geisha as contemporary courtesans. In these new contexts, women remain in the roll of entertaining works of art, though it is not always easy for anyone, Japanese or foreigner, to distinguish between pure entertainers and prostitutes. Buruma’s Japanese Mirror claims that ‘the geisha is an entertainer pure and simple but she is part of an old tradition of courtesans in which prostitution played a vital role.

So – The beauty of the Geisha costume is that it promises sex while remaining coyly demure. And the horror of the Geisha costume is that it promises sex while remaining coyly demure. Western women love it.

Found geisha photos

Image of geisha and other costume packet.

Men’s costume choices can be equally stereotypical, lovers and fighters mostly.

If you want to see the most popular outfits chosen by men, there’s no better place to head than to The Darts. My friend Kirsty, someone who knows her darts, tells me that it was Bobby George who first made costumes and darts a thing. George lives at George Hall, an 18-bedroom mansion he refers to as “the house that Bobby built”. The Hall is located on 12 acres of land once owned by William the Conqueror and the layout of the rooms have been designed to look like a dartboard. Bobby is widely recognised as one of the game’s big personalities, known for his flamboyant entrances in which the “King of Darts” makes his way to the stage bedecked in gold jewelry, wearing a crown and cloak and holding a candelabra to the sound of Queen’sWe Are the Champions“. What a walk on!

Darts has changed quite dramatically in the last 10 years. Thanks to the Sky sponsored PDL (Premier Darts League), prize money is almost in the millions, coaxing players to move from the relatively modest BDO (British Darts Organisation) into the big league. This professionalization of the game has lead players to think of themselves as sportsmen rather than entertainers, and few of the current players are very interested in dressing up. Ted ‘The Count’ Hanky being one notable exception.

Ted’s walk on

Kirsty was a regular at the BDO Championship held annually at the Lakeside Leisure Complex in Surrey. While she didn’t dress up to watch the darts (wigs and slogan t-shirts being the most common and relatively low-key evidence of fandom at Lakeside), she did once drink 13 pints of cider in one day, 3 days in a row. You have to respect that. Anyway, since Kirsty hadn’t had the chance to visit the more modest BDO tournament in a few years, we decided to go to watch the fancy PDL when it came to Glasgow. We were expecting a jovial affair, possibly involving some tall Dutch lads in orange top hats (the Dutch are second only to the British in their love of the darts) and perhaps getting close enough to have a wee tug on Simon Whitlock’s impressive ponytail. What we got was this.

Darts clip.

It was unrelenting. Four hours of apocalyptic almost-violence, with at least one fight kicking off in the row right in front of us.

Apparently, we found out from the taxi driver who whisked us home, feeling like we were in the last chopper out of Saigon, it’s a thing, the darts and Glasgow. The two just don’t mix, and if you choose to attend the PDL in Glasgow, you are more than likely to be gravely injured by some wanker in a smurf costume, chucking a coin at the back of your head.

Anyway, in general, men’s costume choices often seem to be driven by a desire equivalent to that of the women’s geisha outfit – to embody the fictional foreigner. The ninja or the martial arts expert for instance.

Or the Pirate.

Photo of geisha and pirate.

This photo reminds me of an old friend, Henry. Just look at him here – what a hair metal dandy. We met in our first year at university in St. Andrews, and spent much of our time together dressing up. There were plenty of opportunities for making some exciting and glamorous costume decisions at St. Andrews, particularly for the many balls held by each college throughout the year.

This may seem hopelessly naive, but I was clueless about the kind of world St. Andrews provided its students and really had no idea that the traditions found here were, if not quite unique to the place, certainly not shared by most other universities. As a wee girl on our annual caravan holiday, I had seen the Kate Kennedy procession and had been bowled over by the transvestite Kate, though of course then, as now, I knew next to nothing about the, then, all-male Kate Kennedy Club itself. In fact I don’t remember coming across them the whole time I was at uni – though I expect they weren’t exactly canvasing for my support. There are a few St. Andrews traditions that I do remember, each with its own sartorial challenge:

One of the most conspicuous traditions at St Andrews is the wearing of academic dress, particularly the red undergraduate gown of the United College. Undergraduates in Arts and Science wear these at various official university events, on ‘Pier Walks’ and at formal hall dinners, as well as on St Andrews day, where many folk wear their gown all day. Funnily enough, I don’t remember wearing one when a few of us sneaked in to see the Dali Lama receive an honorary degree one morning in 1993. What I do remember was watching him pick his nose and make faces at children from the stage, wearing his own traditional red ensemble.

Another tradition is that of the Academic Family. A Bejant or Bejantine (that’s a first year to you) acquires academic parents who are at least in their third year. These older students are meant to act as informal mentors in academic and social matters, though it’s interesting to note how important it is for ‘academic fathers’ to acquire good looking first year ‘daughters’.  The establishment of these relationships begins at the start of the first semester – with the aim of being in place ahead of Raisin Weekend.

Raisin Weekend celebrates the relationship between the Bejants & Bejantines and their respective Academic Parents.  It is traditionally said that students went up to study with a sack of oatmeal and a barrel of salt-herring as staple foods to last them a term and that therefore anything more exotic was seen as a luxury. In return for the guidance from academic parents a further tradition sprang up of rewarding these “parents” with a pound of raisins. Since the 19th Century the giving of raisins had become the giving of wine. In return for the raisins or equivalent present the parents give their “children” a formal receipt – the Raisin Receipt – composed in Latin. Over time this receipt became more elaborate and is often written on large (stolen) objects such as traffic signs or garden ornaments, which the ‘child’ has to carry around all morning on Raisin Monday. St Andrews locals are careful what they leave outside, in the run up to Raisin Weekend.

Raisin Weekend begins with a fancy dress tea party thrown by the mother(s) and then a pub-crawl or house party led by the father(s). At midday all the First-Years gather in Quad of St Salvator’s College (or Sally’s) to compare their receipts and also to be open to challenge from older students who may look for errors in the Latin of the receipt (an almost inevitable occurrence). Upon detection of such error(s) the bearer may be required to sing the Gaudie.

Audio of the gaudie


Gaudy or gaudie[1] (from the Latin, “gaudium”, meaning “enjoyment” or “merry-making”) is a term used to reflect student life in a number of the ancient universities in the United Kingdom as well as other institutions such as Durham University and Reading University. It is generally believed to relate to the traditional student song, De Brevitate Vitae (On the Shortness of Life), which is commonly known as the Gaudeamus by virtue of its first line.

The Gaudie goes on to say in its fifth verse:

Text: Vivant omnes virgines

Faciles, formosae.

Vivant et mulieres

Tenerae, amabiles,

Bonae, laboriosae.


Long live all girls,

Easy [and] beautiful!

Long live [mature] women too,

Tender, lovable,

Good, [and] hard-working.

Good grief.

In recent years this Raisin gathering has culminated in a shaving foam fight. So, while costumes were deemed essential for Raisin Weekend in general, it was also smart to wear something practical – foam proof and insulating against an east Coast November wind. With this in mind I took inspiration from another past Halloween costume…

Punk photo

…And wore a bin bag for 2 days straight. That’s what Jordan and Siouxsie were ****

Ball photos

A source of much anxiety for me, at least initially, was what to wear to the formal balls. Charity shop dresses were clearly not going to cut it in a place where I was known as ‘Boots’ in my first year, due to my 16 hole oxblood docs. Hardly Avant-guarde in 1990, in this rarified environment these staples of student footwear were considered pretty transgressive – imagine. In fact, the whole costuming dilemma was becoming an overwhelming class angst thing, playing out like I was Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink.

P in Pink scene.

Adrenaline levels were soon off the chart, as I had fallen in love for the first time with a boy called Tom who, reluctantly it has to be said, was going to come with me to my first ball at (St. Regulus Hall where I lived). In a panic I ended up getting the bus back to Glasgow and begged Senga to take me to Saratoga Trunk, a second hand shop from which I had once stolen a 1950s pink glass necklace. I’ve never worn it of course, as I’m too frightened of the bad karma associated with them, but they still sit, the sole occupiers of an oval paper mache jewelry box that Tom, the object of my desire, gave me years later.

Typically of Senga, she instantly spotted the relative importance of my costuming emergency and I still have the dress that she paid one hundred pounds for that day – a black velvet flapper dress, with chevrons cut out in black net on the cleavage, down the spine and over the sleeves. Weeks later, at the ball, Tom didn’t buy me the traditional (and expected) corsage, refused to dance, and wanted to spend all night in my bedroom. I spilt an entire glass of red wine down the front of the dress, ruining the nap irrevocably and by the morning the delicate net sleeves had ripped into holes.

I should have gone with Henry.

The Halloween scene in 1980 space monkey classic E.T. The Extra Terrestrial really captivated me at the time. This wasn’t guising as I knew it. The costumes were so professional looking and pumpkins had yet to make it to Scotland. The scene makes a Peeping Tom of the stranded alien and the warm glow of the American west coast sun lights every kid like a film star. This is the second film that Drew Barrymore was in. Here she is here, providing a grumpy alibi for her brothers.

Her first roll was in Ken Russell’s Altered States with William Hurt.

In Invasion of the Mind Snatcher, a December 1980 review in Time, Richard Corliss says that the film “opens at fever pitch and then starts soaring—into genetic fantasy, into a precognitive dream of delirium and delight. Madness is its subject and substance, style and spirit. The film changes tone, even form, with its hero’s every new mood and mutation. It expands and contracts with his mind until both almost crack. It keeps threatening to go bonkers, then makes good on its threat, and still remains as lucid as an aerialist on a high wire. It moves with the loping energy of a crafty psychopath, or of film makers gripped with the potential of blowing the moviegoer’s mind out through his eyes and ears.”

When they make the film of me, as they inevitably shall, Drew Barrymore will be one of the actors cast as me. Playing the 9 year old me will be Alice in the Cities star Yella Rottländer.

After being cast again by Wim Wenders in Faraway, So Close!, Yella is now a costume designer.

The teenage me will be played by Alicia Silverstone, an actress who, on the set of Batman and Robin in 1997, had a crew member employed to prevent her ordering in pizza, as she was growing too big for her costume. Whither you believe that or not, costume issues were the official reason given when most of her scenes were cut from the final film.

And Drew Barrymore will be playing me as I am now. Obviously my proposed casting offers up some pretty tricky logistical and temporal issues, but I think we can work round them.

Drew has had her fair share of exciting costumes over the years, least of all in the two Charlie’s Angels films – essentially a long series of set ups designed to pop Barrymore, Lucy Liu and Cameron Diaz into some increasingly sexy fancy dress.

In this scene, Drew falls into the garden of her old house on the E.T. set. Check out the Reese’s pieces and the poster. Has every single cultural artifact gone post-post modern? I’m exhausted.

One often trotted out cliché about Barrymore is that she ‘grew up on screen’. And while this is stretching a point when it comes to her films, it could be said to be true when it comes to her TV. appearances as, as they say, herself.

Here she is on the Carson Show in 1980.

Adorable, but a set up.

A few years later, here she is on David Letterman, acting out that wild child cliché.

It was a confusing time in the 90s, what with feminism all but disappearing under the faux-equality of ladette culture.

Drew’s most recent TV. incarnation is as traditional wife and mother. Here her ‘real-life’ story arc conforms to the inevitable path from sweet child via wild teen to serene motherhood. This stuff is so simplistic and conventional in its approach to female gender rolls, it gives me the chills.

This is the pattern laid out for many female protagonist in films of the 80s and 90s, where a filmmaker has given so little depth to his female lead that her inner life is unable to be successfully voiced and is symbolized entirely by her outward costume change. Most disturbing of these to this twelve year old happened to Molly Ringwald and her mentor –friend Annie Potts in Pretty in Pink. Potts’ character Iona…

Iona (name)

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Iona is a unisex[1] name that is taken from the Scottish island of Iona,[2][3] which has a particular significance in the history of Christianity. The derivation of this island name itself is uncertain. The earliest forms of the name enabled place-name scholar William J. Watson to state that the name originally meant something like “yew-place”.[4] However, other suggestions such as an Norse origin from Hiōe meaning “island of the den of the brown bear”[5] have also been made. Other possibly meanings are “Violet” from the English name Ione, or simply Island, from Norse ey.

Iona is also the Russian form of the male name Jonah.

In the United States, Iona has not appeared in the Social Security Administration’s list of 1,000 most popular baby names in the last 12 years.[6]

Wears a series of parodies of genre costumes, all of which foreground her self-sufficiently and assured sexuality. You go girl.

Another dreamy dress

However, once she meets her dentist boyfriend, she reflects his own preppy costume, morphing into the epitome of yuppie success, signaled by a frumpy shirt, broach and Miami vice white jacket combo. No more thrift store shopping for this newly hatched capitalist.

Ringwald’s character infamously massacres a beautiful 1950s dress in order to make her prom dress, so that she might match up to the rich clique’s standards and bag herself the wealthy Andrew McCarthy. Depressingly her scheme works and she ditches the real heart throb of the piece, the unconventional and poor Ducky AKA Jon Cryer.

Btw, in 2014 Jon Cryer dressed up in his Ducky costume for the Halloween episode of Two and a Half Men.

The tragic convention of the film might be summed up by the theme song. Though John Hughes claimed that the Psycadellic Furs’ song was the inspiration for the film, he mangles the original meaning of the song, from one about a sexually promiscuous woman (who looks great naked) to something sweet about a pink dress. The Furs re-recorded the song at the filmmaker’s request to make it less abrasive. To do this they added a lot of sax.




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