Costumes are wonderful things. I sent my son off trick or treating with a square of gold net and a yard of rope worn over some black and silver clothes rummaged from his dresser. He bought a plastic trident to wield and he was Finnick Odair, the tragic and lovely super-warrior of the final Hunger Games book. We all wear costumes every day, in one way or another, even if we don’t get to embody ass-kicking, Capitol-defying rebels at work.
Of course by costume I mean actually clothing, the uniform of the working world. I’ve found that when I work at home I simply can’t do any work in my pajamas. I need real pants and a shirt in which I could take a video call without embarrassment to get into my program manager persona. You don’t want my pajama persona showing up to work. She’s not very practical, she likes to read Victorian novels, and she’s a real homebody. She’d have a hard time getting on an airplane or stripping down a bloated budget. Putting on real clothes on workdays, even if I am working from home, switches my brain in the same way that a bit of net and rope made my son into a hero.
But costumes can be nothing more than metaphor and magic, too, a little Jedi mind-trick we play on ourselves to do new or hard things. We dress differently for a big presentation than we do for a day in front of the computer. Sure, we want to look good and appropriate in front of a crowd, but I think there is something else, too – by wearing “presentation clothes” we put on the costume, the persona, of someone who can hold the attention of a room. And believing we can is the only way we’ll ever actually do it, so the costume matters.
Business suits, lingerie, yoga pants – costumes, all of them, that help us get into character. Usually I rail at this: I am not a clothes person, I have no fashion sense, and I am guilty of saying nasty things to my body in the mirror. But when I stop being so literal about clothes, stop thinking so much about what is flattering and think more about who I need to be today, I can see the utility in a daily costume. It isn’t fakery (I am truly both the program manager and the dreamy Victorian-novel-reader) it is a clue to the brain and the body to tap into characteristics that may sometimes lie hidden.
If a plastic trident and some net can make an 11 year old feel like he can overthrow the forces of repression and evil in the world (if only for a night), what can a scarf or a necklace or a crisp button down shirt do for us? Maybe we could try a little netting, too, just for the hell of it. Go ahead, be a rebel.