Friday, August 26, 2011

Some Assembly Required

I realized recently that I am, and have been for the last few months, reinventing myself. I've been adopting new things that I never thought I'd want to adopt, and discarding old things that once meant a lot to me.

For example, I notice that I am embracing my age... and even striving to seem older than I am. It started with the glasses (seen here): needing bifocals inspired me to get classic black frames that I once would have dismissed as "too old," a fifties' style that make it obvious from a hundred yards away that I'm wearing glasses... rather than the wire-frames I've always worn in hopes of diminishing the appearance of age.

Then there's the beard (also pictured). I've had a beard before, but I would always tweak around with the gray in it, dyeing it or shaving it off when I wanted to look younger. It adds ten years to my appearance, or more precisely makes me look my actual age and maybe a couple years extra. Yet people seem to respond more positively to me when I have my gray beard, people smile at me more, and people are now telling me that I look not only distinguished but actually sexy.

And now I've started walking with a cane. It started with buying one for a costume, a regency-style dome-topped affair that I got on eBay for something like forty bucks while I was working on my next several costumes (after the last post about my Louis XV outfit, I saw Beau Brummell: This Charming Man, a not very good and wildly inaccurate biopic of the famous dandy starring the incredibly schmexy James Purefoy; I followed it with Regency House Party, one of those weird Brit "reality" shows where people try living in a different century; and I was soon completely in love with the Regency style and started working on assembling some wardrobe).

Anyway, I was futzing around with this walking stick around the house, and wore it out when I went to Solace, discovering that it made getting around a hell of a lot easier... I didn't even have to lean on it very hard, just having it in hand helped my balance and relieved the pressure in my ankles, knees, and hips. Getting in and out of chairs was suddenly no longer a painful noisy chore. But the stick was a little short, I found myself leaning a bit to the side, which simply transferred the discomfort from my lower body to my hands and shoulders.

So I did some research, and found out that the correct height for a cane should be half your own height, rounded up to the nearest inch, or should reach your wrist-bone when standing up straight and letting your arm hang loose at your side; since I'm 75" tall, the correct height would be 37.5 or 38 inches. To test that out, I started using two of Grandmother's canes, adjustable ones that I could bring up to a 37" and 38". As promised, the 38" one was the most comfortable.

And so I've been walking around all week with a cane, at work and at home, and I absolutely love it! I had to get past the initial reactions from coworkers and clients, who would be startled by the sight of a cane and ask me with great concern how I'd injured myself; but once I explained that I was just trying out a possible remedy for an existing depression-related joint-pain condition, they moved on to asking me how it was working.

Of course, some more shopping is required. Since the elegant one I bought was too short, and Grandmother's spares are all tubular aluminum with joins and sizing buttons and not-very-attractive handles, I immediately started trolling eBay and other internet sites for elegant canes that are tall enough for me. But it hasn't been easy: the tallest standard is 36", and most canes are 34" (which makes sense, since the average American is 68" tall), so it took some doing to find canes that were tall enough and classy enough for me.

I've bought two so far, one a handmade cane in black-stained Virginia hemlock with a black marble Victorian doorknob as a handle, and another black ash stick with a chrome-plated two-headed eagle handle. Neither has arrived yet, but I'm looking forward to getting them and trying them out. There is a rich variety out there, even with my non-standard height requirements (though a standard height would exponentially increase the possibilities), so I suspect I'm starting a new collection.

I think the next step will be a pipe... but I can't smoke one, so it would just be a prop; and I've always found props tedious when performing. Or maybe a different style of hat... I've been wearing "newsboy" caps (or golf caps or apple caps or eight-quarter caps or whatever you want to call them) for a few years now, maybe it's time to graduate to a nice fedora or panama? But I've had trouble with shaped hats in the past, I throw them in the backseat of my car or my trunk and they get squashed. I don't know.

And then there's something else: I simply do not want to do drag anymore. I feel like I've milked all the fun out of it, and it's no longer something that makes me happy. In all my eBay expeditions, I've not been remotely interested in female costumes or jewelry or wigs. I look at them, but they spark no interest. I don't know if this is a permanent distaste for my drag persona or just a lack of interest due to taking so much interest in new masculine realms of costume and jewelry, but I have a weird feeling that I'm done with Marlene. I'm not going to give away all my gowns and jewels just yet, though... I'd hate to get rid of everything and then decide I want to be Marlene again.

This is a little unsettling but very exciting, this business of self-reinvention. It's also rather expensive: I've overdrawn my account four times in the last three months. I mean, no sooner did I finish one costume than I was launched into two others (proper Regency and sexy Goth), and not very far into those realms before I started on the walking-sticks. I have about four hundred dollars worth of eBay items on watch that I plan to get with my next paycheck (a three-piece suit, some really massive rings, and another cane). And now I contemplate pipes and hats?

Yeah, well, I never claimed to be sane. But I say the results are worth it (this is what I wore to Solace last weekend, and I looked fierce, if I do say so myself):

I'm also inspired to start taking more care with my everyday clothes. The cane and beard do not assort well with my old "collegiate casual" khakis with a t-shirt and v-neck, or polo shirt on hot days. I'm starting to think tailored vests with collared shirts, blazers instead of hoodies when it's cool, maybe a loose necktie or even an ascot. With a panama hat and a cane? I'd be rockin' that old-man mojo!

Well, something to think about, anyway. I'm still trying out various costume vendors for the waistcoat thing, for my Regency and Goth outfits, and possibly for everyday; the custom-tailored one I wore in the picture above was great, but it was kind of pricey at $120, if I'm going to wear waistcoats every day I'm going to have to find something cheaper. Of course waistcoats have to be one of the things I need to have tailored, since I have an unnaturally long torso and most vests are made to standard sizes that are three or four inches shorter than I need.

Anyoldhowzle, that's me today. Check back in a few weeks to see who I am then.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Summerti-yi-yi-ime, and the Living Is Easy

Sorry to fall off again, but I've been enjoying doing nothing so much that I can't bring myself around to doing something. And I haven't even fallen back into the clutches of Second Life... my participation there has been cursory at best. I've been playing some FaceBook games, and reading A Clash of Kings, but nothing intensive. Instead, I've been staring at the ceiling a lot, sleeping a lot, and watching movies and TV shows online a lot.

But my July wasn't all about vegetating... I took a trip, and I've been putting together my Halloween costume, and working on some interesting projects.

So for Halloween this year, I'm doing a French courtier of the period of Louis XV. I don't know if I want to try to be an actual historical figure or a figure of literature or just a generic Courtier, but I'm definitely focused on the Louis XV period (that would be 1715 to, he was king for a long time! But then, he started at age 5, poor thing).

The costume started with the discovery of this suit on eBay:

I'm having it made in black velvet with silver frogging and buttons, and a silver-and-black damask waistcoat with pearl buttons. I ordered it without knowing what period it was meant to be, though, and had to do a lot of research to discover when cuffs like that were used with hip-length waistcoats... the cuffs originated at about 1680, the middle Louis XIV period, but were worn with waistcoats the same length as the coat; the shorter waistcoat was more common in the Louis XVI period, but the cuffs of those times were much slimmer. So the cuffs and the waistcoat in those proportions only overlapped for two decades, placing us firmly in between the 1750s and the 1770s.

The next issue was shoes... men generally wore high-heeled black shoes with ornate silver or jeweled buckles, yet all of the costume buckle-shoes I could find were low-heeled and very distinctly American Colonial; but while poking around on eBay, I discovered that the shape popular in 18th-century France is echoed in modern Cuban heel dance shoes... so I ordered a pair of those:

The seams across the instep are out-of-period, but since they're black and will be adorned with shoe-buckles, I don't think anyone will notice. As an added bonus, I discovered when I wore them recently (before adding the buckles) that they're incredibly comfortable! I was definitely not expecting that, considering the height of the heel and the point of the toe. I don't think I'll ever wear low-heeled dress shoes again.

For the buckles, it was fairly easy to find something that looked the period without actually being from the period... 18th-century shoe-buckles, though not terribly rare, are terribly expensive. So I got something that looked very like the period, but which are late Victorian:

Though they look from the front like cast silver, and have a subtle sparkle like marcasite, they're actually cut steel... each of the steel beads is individually riveted to the frame. I'm going to place bows behind each buckle, either black satin or the same fabric as the waistcoat, and sew the buckles to the instep of the shoes.

My next problem was the hat... there were lots of tricorns available online, but none of the correct period... they were all pirate hats or American Colonial hats, nothing like what was worn in France during the reign of Louis XV. But after a certain amount of searching, I was able to find the exact right period of hat from a reenactor site (being the correct period for the French & Indian War):

Unfortunately, it cost an obscene amount of money for a hat... though not an unreasonable amount for an authentic beaver felt hat from a fairly obscure era, custom-made to exactly fit my big ol' melon. And seriously, it was the only hat I could find that was the correct shape, so I coughed up $200 for it. The suit was $300, so I was reluctant to add that much more to the kitty (the shoes and buckles together cost about $100), but I figured I might as well just go whole hog on this year.

The idea that I probably don't really need a hat to sell the costume occurred to me, but that idea was dismissed as unsporting.

And speaking of sporting, my next purchase was an appropriate sword... of course I had to have a sword! I've become quite obsessed with swords over the last few years (I have six of them), and no costume is complete without one, even though I usually end up not wearing it, either because of weapons bans at the places I go for Halloween or because the sword is too heavy to be carried comfortably.

But again I had to do some research to discover what kind of sword is correct for the period; yet very little research was needed to discover that only one kind of sword would do: the smallsword, an evolution from the rapier but predecessor of the epee. Sadly, among all the cheaper reproductions available online, the period is completely unrepresented... cheapskate collectors seem to prefer Renaissance rapiers and military sabres to delicate Rococo smallswords... most of what was available were antiques costing in the high thousands.

Even away from eBay, I only found one cutler who made accurate reproduction smallswords (Cold Steel), and they cost upwards of $240. Fortunately, I was able to find a vendor on eBay that sold them at a skosh of a discount, and ended up with the following:

It recently arrived in the mail, and I have to admit that this was a good investment. The quality is amazing, it's feather-light but extremely strong (the edges aren't sharp, but the point is), and the detail is gorgeous, the picture doesn't do it justice. In its scabbard, it's so well balanced that I can hang it from a hook in my belt and it doesn't swing around when I walk. And so although the sword brought the cost of this little folly dangerously close to a thousand bucks, I am very glad I bought this particular blade... it makes my other swords look like toys.

So now I'm pretty much all ready. I am still waiting for the suit to be made, the costumier was a little backlogged and then was scheduled for surgery, but she promised me an early September delivery date; and the hat should be on its way right now, though it hasn't yet arrived. Then I have to sew the buckles on the shoes, which shouldn't be at all difficult. And I'll need to get a proper powdered wig... the costumey one I have isn't bad, but I'd like to get a more theatrical-quality piece if I can.

All that's left is to decide on a character, and then think of where to go. I plan to wear this costume to the Bal des Vampires in November, but I'm sure Caroline will have some good ideas for Halloween as well. Last year we went to the California Academy of Science's Nightlife, and had a great time; we also went to Slide, where she had a great time and I was bored out of my mind.

Speaking of the Vampires' Ball, I have discovered a rich vein of Goth in my own backyard. While playing Second Life, I met a gentleman who produces and co-DJs a monthly goth club right here in Oakland! It's called Solace, and it is more of a social salon than a dance club — though dancing does occur there, the music never gets louder than the conversations, and shies clear of the industrial/punk/metal sounds that permeate most goth venues.

I went in June with Caroline, and had such a good time that I went back by myself for July, and intend to visit in August for their anniversary party, and to simply make a monthly habit of it as long as I can. And it was there that I heard about PEERS, who host the Vampire's Ball as well as monthly events that I'm going to start looking into.

"What?! You're going out in public!?" I hear you scream in disbelief. Or maybe just relief... I know I'm relieved. While I still find myself somewhat uncomfortable in crowds, I have been going out a lot more lately, and am planning to make more a habit of it in the future.

I'm becoming more involved in the Grand Ducal Court as well, having discovered an expedient that boosts me over my discomfort level: I go in male drag. Not just street clothes, but dressing up in costume. I attended San Francisco Imperial Coronation in a military band jacket and a kilt; and then attended Alameda Ducal Coronation in a tailcoat and satin pirate shirt (both times with boots, naturally... I'm big on boots these days).

(That's Angelique deVil by my side at SF Imperial)

Being in costume is very liberating, and not having to wear corsets and wigs and foundation and heels is even more liberating... put the two together, and not only am I very comfortable and happy to be out in public, but I have a reason to wear all the costumes I'm always buying, other than the usual Halloween. I guess that's why I've felt enabled to spend so much money on the Louis XV folly, if I can find a half-dozen reasons to wear parts of it instead of just once a year.

So I plan to reenter the Court spheres as Robert Manners instead of Marlénè Manners, and see how that works out. I'm not sure I want to perform as a male, though... but we'll cross that bridge later on.

Oh, and did you notice the beard? I decided to grow it back over the winter, in February to be exact, when I got my new glasses (black frames with a bifocal!) At first I dyed it and my hair to match my glasses, but after a while I got used to the gray and decided it was a good look for me.

Unfortunately, I think I'm going to have to shave it off for the Louis XV look... nobody but peasants had beards in 18th-century France. Which is too bad, because it's a good look for me... and more importantly, it covers up the sag in my chin, which I hate. Not many people notice the sag, but I know it's there and it saps my confidence. With the beard, I feel better about my appearance, and that translates into people being attracted by my appearance. People actually flirt with me! And I must say, I enjoy the hell out of that.

Oh, and I mentioned a trip! But I'm too tired to tell you about it right now. So I'll pop in later this week and show you some pictures. In the meantime, have a simply gorgeous day!