I'm at a kinky gathering and I'm sticking out like a sore thumb. Part of me derives some satisfaction from this, another part wonders what on earth is going on. Fair enough, I did arrive straight from work, but I could have just as easily (and have done in the past) packed something to change into. Here's the set-up. The ladies are all in dresses, lovely, beautiful tea dresses for the most part, and heels. They look very pretty and very "feminine". I am in black combat trousers, a bondage motif t-shirt and trainers. I do not look very pretty. In terms of outfit, I look remarkably like the men in the room, including Captain, who is sporting army print. We look practical, comfortable, non-revealing, somewhat military and thereby "masculine".
Later on I fell into a discussion about dominance and dress-up. It's a two pronged question really - what do you wear that makes you feel dominant and what do you wear to tell people you are dominant. Not always the same outfit, certainly not in my experience. Now, there is a school of thought that would suggest you wear exactly what you want and to hell with everyone else, but we all know that we look at one someone is wearing and make a decision on what they must be like. Clothes don't make the man (but we do draw our own conclusions). Hopefully they don't make the dominant either, but I think that conclusions are still drawn. Personally, I find there's something awkward going on in terms of outward gender/sexuality assignations and dress code.
First came my now rather traditional "fuck high heels" rant in which I railed against the way in which the high heeled shoe is used a symbol of female dominance despite the fact that they make doing actual domination (and remaining upright and thus believably in control) rather difficult for me. The question on the table was "what does a dominant woman wear to dress up?" I looked down at what I was wearing and said "this", but that apparently wasn't enough of an answer. I certainly was a female dominant, but I wasn't, by the group standards "dressed-up".
When we say "dressed up" we mean clothes that make a statement - the aim is to look good and to impress upon other people our power of drawing attention and being generally awesome. Clothes as signs, as armour to protect our day-to-day selves. And generally speaking, women tend to be dressier than men, particularly those looking to emphasise their femininity (usually when a man wants to assert his masculinity he will go for a look that implies he has made less effort). The clothes the woman wears tend to be revealing, the man's concealing. And so on. If the point is sexual display - and dress up is often that - then the sexuality will be on display alongside the gender.
And that's where my problems really start. I find it hard to appear as a heterosexual feminine dominant in the generally understood sense of the words. In the clothes I was wearing I certainly felt like myself (I've always been something of a tomboy), and I absolutely felt dominant. I didn't, however, feel particularly feminine and especially with all the other women dressed in a different way I felt a little outside the clan and from an outsiders point of view I was probably outside of what was considered "desirable". Regardless of whether or not you have the confidence to wear a bin-liner and flip flops one generally would still prefer to be desired and since beauty is often in the eyes of the beholder, there tends to be better outfits than others for creating the required effect.
I also felt, and this is more important, as if I was aping a certain sort of uniform, both that of the lesbian dyke dominant and particularly that of the male dominant. Now, I'm neither of those two things, but that was the "look" I was presenting. Part of the difficulty is that I do not want to be a dominant if that means being masculine and this can often be challenging because so many of the words associated with dominance, even the word itself, are generally linked to ideas of masculinity, which riles me no end and is something I'm trying to steer away from both personally and politically.
I've written before on the codes of BDSM "fashion" and certainly both traditional media and porn presents the kinky look in a very specific way - one can pretty much flick through images of female dominance and notice the only difference is the faces, and even then it can be hard to tell. I don't much want to totter around in skin tight latex on five inch heels with slicked back hair and Cruella De Ville make-up, unless someone is paying me a lot of money or I'm doing Cabaret. But that said, I don't want to cause confusion or upset by wearing clothes that tell people I'm something different to what I am.
The problem here is in finding a way of expressing sexuality without feeling as if its cribbed from someone else - no-one wants to feel unoriginal, but perhaps such a thing isn't possible? After all, the meanings of what we wear are a social construct and therefore unless we are aiming to be a true "original" (back to the bin bags and flip-flops again, and that will only work once before its been done) we fit into the pattern of what has been done/said/worn before.
I've been thinking it over and decided that the only real answer, is to say "fuck it", and accept that I will wear whatever I feel like wearing, whenever I feel like wearing it and that will have no bearing on who I am as a person, as a feminist, as a woman, as a dominant. As me. Chameleon like, I will give different messages each day to those who only look at me. I will probably not be recognisably "domme" or "sub" to a fair amount of people which means that they may have to come and talk to me and find out. I'll wear what makes me feel hot and damn the rest. This will confuse some people, no doubt. I will certainly not be consistent and certainly never give the impression of living in a 24/7 BDSM photoshoot. I'll be a dominant in a fluffy bathrobe, in drag, in a dress and in jeans and a t-shirt.
I think it will be a lot of fun.