My fondest childhood memory is of a black plastic bin liner. It was a porthole of whimsy. Every so often, my mom would go to the charity shop, throw out some patterned gauzy blouse or whizz some piece of imagination from cheap synthetic fabric on our sewing machine, and they would all end up in there. Unlike most little girls, I didn't have a dressing up box — I had The Bin Liner of Dreams and I frikin loved it. It was my safe place. A place I could be a mermaid, Margot Fonteyn, the ghost of Anne Boleyn, Sally Spook, a majorette, a sufragette or Cyndi Lauper (these were all genuine childhood heroes/aspirations of mine) — and all at once if I wanted. I think this is where I graduated in the careful art of layering. To be honest, after several trials and tribulations of taking fashion too seriously — fluctuating between thinking way too much about it to anxiously fretting about what shape and style I should be wearing to suit my rather average body shape — this is the place I have returned as a fully-fledged-grown-up-woman-person. I dress for my inner child. And, quite frankly, I firmly believe it is something all humans should try to do as well.
(Me, at four years old circa 1994, wearing a crown by Burger King, tinsel wig by Local Party Store, veil from Local Charity Shop, see-through vintage petticoat and dressing gown.)
Okay, so maybe I don't often wear a paper fast food crown out into the world anymore (although I do own some rather fabulous fabric and metal crowns that often frequent the bars or even the shops down the road), but I do take pleasure in playing with juxtaposing styles and wearing things with an element of playground silliness. Anything both comfortable (which allows for movement and makes me feel like I'm either naked or wearing pajamas) and featuring tulle/sequins/a logo/a cute drawing is good in my book. I'm currently loving wearing oversized marl gray sports sweaters with girly, flowing skirts and gold accessories. Layering see-through clothes is something I think I probably latched onto in my toddler years as well. I had a particular attachment to one shell pink, 1950s transparent bed robe that I would don whilst pretending to be a nymph. (I grew up surrounded by tales of mythology and folklore, and many Pre-Raphaelite prints on the walls.)
(Circa 1995 wearing my favorite negligee, layered over a silk printed scarf to hide my, erm, modesty.)
And it's not just me having fun dressing for my inner child. I've been following the hastag #toddelerstylist of late, inspired by fashion blogger Summer Bellessa's week of letting her toddler dress her. Bellessa spent one week handing her style over to her three-year-old son, Rockwell, and she was surprisingly pleased with the results. Despite having to spend two days wearing mismatched footwear (hey, I know one particular twentysomething who has done this on two occasions in my presence without the aid of a toddler — you know who you are...) and almost having to leave the house sans trousers, Bellessa found the experience sartorially enlightening.
"The pressure we put on ourselves to look a certain way is just that," she wrote. "Pressure we put on ourselves...You can be playful with your clothes, or casual or stylish, but it’s really up to you. The... thing I learned from this experiment, is to find moments to be silly. Silliness is good for your kids and for your heart. Don’t take yourself too serious: they’re just clothes."
(Circa 1995 wearing crown by some trashy 90s toy company, vintage blouse and bespoke mermaid tail by House of My Mom.)
Whenever I stumble upon a designer who similarly makes clothes with the inner child in mind, I get ridiculous over excited. So when Bleach London sent me their latest email update featuring an adorably cute GIF of the hair they styled for Molly Goddard's show at London Fashion Week, I internally did a little somersault. An otherworldly, gamine model with waist-length hair wearing a thrifted sweater and a tulle tent-style dress jauntily did a little stop-motion twirl — like the ballerina in my childhood jewelry box; right there in my inbox.
I had to find out more.
Thanks to Google, I found an article within seconds on Goddard's latest playful showcase. A scattering of street scouted models, all with hauntingly natural beauty, float about their easels. Languidly they sketch, wander, daydream. Amidst the cloud of nymphets, a surly, older gentleman is planted, still and sturdy and naked — a life model, his pot belly neatly sitting on his lap. Unaware of the crowd of onlookers and photographers, the girls go about their business. The scene is almost dreamlike — a piece of uncanny performance art.
Goddard chose to display her collection within the framework of a staged life-drawing class because she took her inspiration from art students. And an art school alumni, I can relate to the world she has captured in the seams of her garments.
Art students are the pioneers of dressing for their inner child, but not in the way you might imagine. Those of you who have attended art school know the intensity of the process. Art and design undergraduates don't wander around their studios flawlessly made up in perfectly formed ensembles, ready to be street snapped at any minute — you don't have the time for that. Rather, you embrace your bedhead, become the connoisseur of topknots and the five minute makeup job. Your clothes reflect a stylish comfort that is often expressive by accident. There is a Bin Liner of Dreams-like element to your look that comes from pulling aspects of your already eclectic wardrobe together last minute since you probably slept in. Last night's sparkly flats are slipped on as you pull the sweater you usually wear to bed over your latest thrift shop find and grab your pass and head to the bus with barely five minutes to spare. Everything you own probably has paint on it, but that somehow makes it better.
Frothy birthday party dress tulle is ruched and balloons outwards, never long enough to be frumpy. Oversized A-line shapes call to mind childhood dreams and dance recital postcards from the 20s. Elements of dance costumes, grandma's hand-me-downs and 80s cartoon characters blend to create dresses so delicately unpretentious despite their flamboyance. There is an almost minimal simplicity to the pieces, each ethereal element so carefully selected and well balanced. There is nothing overly busy or fussy here.
Dressing for your inner child is a brave and courageous act and it doesn't come naturally to us all. It is, however, immensely freeing to embrace fashion for its potential for fun. To dress for your inner child is to dress timelessly and not in a black-never-goes-out-style way. Rather, it is timelessly individual — timelessly your own. The wonderful Yves Saint Laurent once said, "Fashion fades, style is eternal," and the inner child is a stylish creature. It ignores trends and plays with ideas, with icons, with elements. The inner child isn't afraid of wearing last season's colors. The inner child is the essence of your outward visual expression — it is personal to us all. It is not tamed by what is in the throwaway fashion mags. It just wants to have fun and slowly create the essence of you.
This week, why not take a leaf out of Summer Bellessa and Molly Goddard's books and let your inner three-year-old dress you. You don't have to have an eccentric closet, just a playful approach and a smile on your face.Images: Author; Getty; Giphy; Instagram