Festivals and the fashioning of identity

This August, in a bid to finally overcome my festival virginity, I packed up my tent, hand sanitiser, wellies and dry shampoo and headed off to Wilderness. It was the most fabulous few days, camping out in the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside with my lovely pals and so many fun activities on tap. I knew it would be my kind of festival when our itinerary included archery and wild swimming alongside quaffing champagne and dancing, and when I spotted not one but two tea and crumpet stands. Our days were filled with everything from comedy and cricket to political debates and yoga, all topped off with a heady mix of delicious food and drinks, lots of glitter and of course, plenty of amazing music.

While I had such a fun few days, something struck me as I mooched amongst girls dressed in little more than sequinned-leggings and glitter: in my denim dungarees and wellies I suddenly felt incredibly conservative and strait-laced, a feeling at odds with the person I believe myself to be.
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While much of my identity is tied up in my liberal left-wing views, my veganism, an interest in the environment and sustainability and my love of the outdoors – running, yoga, hiking and climbing, swimming in lakes and sitting by campfires – the realisation dawned on me that my outer appearance isn’t necessarily reflective of these elements of my personality. I started to see that my tendency to err on the side of caution in my clothing choices has meant that while I’m pretty hippy on the inside, I’m definitely more preppy on the outside.

As a result, I started to examine the question of whether our inner- and outer-selves necessarily have to match up; are our personalities and sartorial decisions intertwined, or can they be mutually exclusive? Does a sensible polo-neck sweater and a pleated skirt preclude skinny dipping and a love of tofu and preempt quiet evenings in with a book and hot chocolate? Do I really need to don the festival uniform of a sequinned leotard and little else to prove to the outside world that I’m a fun-loving tree-hugging, left-leaning yogi?

There is definitely something about dressing in a certain way that makes you feel part of a tribe and gives you a firm sense of both self and community. There are times when this draw towards the ‘uniform’ of a tribe is particularly heightened, and a festival is one such occasion. I have to admit, having never before considered adding anything with sequins to my wardrobe, suddenly at Wilderness I found myself coveting them. But using dress to align yourself with a certain lifestyle or political outlook isn’t just about frivolously opting for a one style of shirt over another, it can also act as a creative means by which you can construct a visual representation of who you are.

This week in a BBC Radio 4 programme about identity, the speakers emphasised the role that coherence and consistency plays in establishing a firm sense of personal identity, and I suppose coordinating your inner and outer selves adds to this sense of coherence. Yet while for some people their look is part of a unified package, for others, like me, it’s slightly more scatter-gun and perhaps not as considered as it might be.

All of this got me thinking about my identity, both from the point of view of how people perceive me, and from the perspective of how I want to be seen. Would a more careful curation of my wardrobe give me, as well as those around me, a stronger sense of who I am?
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During my run on Thursday I was listening to a podcast interview with the skier Lynsey Dyer and something she said really threw all of these thoughts into focus. She observed that, as a teenager, she had fallen in love with the idea of surfing having seen the Roxy girls in various surfer magazines. However, later, when she realised that the women she had admired were just models who couldn’t surf it made her see that what really mattered wasn’t so much looking the part but living the experience.

In another podcast episode, Rich Roll explored the concept of authenticity and truth to oneself. He asked the question, who am I at my core, and do my actions align with this authentic sense of purpose and self? This drilling down to our core values and living in a way true to them is also something examined in Greg McKeown’s book ‘Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less‘.

For me, these speakers highlighted a more important element of identity, that of asserting and living in a way true to your core values. In this way, the focus is on substance, not just style and it becomes more than just about veneering yourself in the tropes of how you feel certain values should look, or slavishly imitating those around you, without imbuing that aesthetic with an authentic piece of yourself.

So while I am reviewing my outward appearance and considering more carefully the messages that my choice of clothing may send out, I’m also auditing my inner self, digging deeper to establish what truly matters to me and how my behaviours in all elements of my life convey this message.

I want to finish with a quote from Rich Roll on the question of dress and aligning yourself with a particular look or brand:

If it’s authentic to who you are; if it’s a natural expression of what you would be doing or wearing ordinarily, then it’s ok. It’s when it becomes artifice and there’s some other agenda that’s built into that, where it become something else entirely, that’s where it becomes problematic.

Until my next, namaste.

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