Strange the Way Things Work Out (Ten Years Since Straight Out of Surrey)
Firstly, before we go on a strange adventure into my past, I want to apologize about the present. I’ve been working my little fingers to the bone on The Cosplay Journal (which you can read all about here) and this blog rather fell to the bottom of my todo pile. But we’re back now! Hopefully much more permanently as the print deadline for TCJ is looming and after that I can get back on my lovely fashion horse. Anyway, onwards and upwards we go.
Today I realised that “Straight Out Of Surrey” is 10 years old. To many this will mean nothing, but to me it’s something that changed my life, which is pretty strange and at the time I would never have thought it either.
I discovered Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer when I was in sixth form. It was a time when I was just starting to work out who I was, how I wanted to look, what I wanted to be, the same as all teenagers, but, being into alternative fashions and having little to no money – plus being a budding cosplayer as well, that is a hobby that just sucks up you money – I failed pretty badly at all of the looks I tried.
So I kind of gave up for a bit, sort of. I went for an easy to maintain and wear shirts, jumpers and skinny jeans look, about as andro as you can get and stuck with it for most of my time at Uni. I kept a little bit of an eye on Mr B but the whole Chap thing rather fell by the wayside since I felt I couldn’t really afford or pull off the look in a way that I would be happy with. I was still working out a lot of gender issues in myself and struggled to see a path in fashion that wouldn’t constrain me to gender or social identity. I’ve talked about this before, and how I started to work out that clothing and gender really didn’t need to be linked, that I could wear what I wanted and that didn’t affect my gender identity. After all, they’re my clothes, I’m wearing them, so they are representing my gender and anyone who doesn’t see that, well that’s on them. Working this out, and I am still working it out actually, felt like opening my eyes to a whole new way of being, that I could re-embrace alternative fashions for myself, I could be loud and proud of who I am and how I look, and that was the first step on what I am sure will continue to be a long and interesting journey.
Interestingly, I still didn’t go back to chap, despite it now being my favourite way to dress, something of a signature look for me. It was almost like I was looking for it but in the wrong places. Maybe wrong isn’t the right word, but I definitely wasn’t looking in the right place! I tried Lolita, Mori, some Punk, some New Romantic, all being looks that I still love and wear, but none of them really fitted me as a person.
Lolita was always too OTT for my tastes. I loved the boy style Ouji and the cute sailor suits but the lace, the hair and the accessories overwhelm me at times. Mori wasn’t tailored enough, too many layers and very little shape, good for winter though, very snug. Punk, well I’m just not punk, not in a fashion sense anyway, I think I’m a bit too square. But the thing with all of this experimentation is that I was exploring how one could express gender in nonconforming ways, all of these looks bring in strong strains of androgyny and gender manipulation, yes, even Lolita. Look at Ouji and Kodona or the “brololita” movement within the fashion – male identifying lolitas in the the hyper feminine clothing. The whole fashion is in and of itself subverting the ideas of gender, pushing against the boundaries of Japanese culture and traditional Japanese femininity, girls reclaiming their bodies and their appearance in a way that upset the status quo, kawaii is punk af my friends. This has then being taken on by western cultures to create their own subversive message of gender and appearance. Honestly I’m going to do a whole piece on Lolita and it’s nonconforming, gender boundary pushing, society changing nature, but for now here’s some links if you are interested (LINK LINK LINK).
All of this helped me address issues in my gender – and if you want to read my ramblings on that you can do that here – but I still didn’t feel like these looks were me just being me. It was exaggerated, costume like in fact, a protective way of seeing myself and the world seeing me but I was still living in jeans the rest of the time and, well, that wasn’t making me happy. It was a problem I needed to solve but couldn’t see how to solve it, and then by chance one day that I noticed a sign on the high street that I hadn’t seen before, “Vintage to Vogue – high quality vintage fashion”.
And here, my dear friends do we return to Mr B. Because you see, at that moment, I didn’t follow the sign and go into the shop. I was on my way home from a deeply upsetting day at work and wanted to have a bath and play video games that let me shoot nazis, but what it did do, as I trudged up the hill to my flat, feet hurting, legs aching, and mind wanting to escape the drudgery of bar work, was open Spotify and search for Mr B. Something about the sign had triggered a memory that made me want to listen to chap-hop again. It all came back. Everything I loved about it, everything I had aspired to be aged 16 flooded back into my head. And there was so much more now that I had never heard. Honestly I was so excited that I went home and instead of playing said shooting nazi games, I looked up all things Chap.
It’s such a weird moment to remember so clearly but it was the moment I rediscovered my love for Chap and all things vintage. Though, it was never really lost, like I said, what I wore in Lolita was inspired by sailor suits and vintage school uniforms, the same with all the other stuff I tried, but this was when I realised it. What I actually wanted to look like, I wanted to be just like a chap.
The next day I went into Vintage to Vogue, down it’s weird little alley and this amazing cave of wonders opened up for me. And I could afford none of it. Unsurprising really, I could barely pay the rent, but I could afford a copy of The Chap. My first copy. How things have changed.
See the thing is, that I had to go full circle. 16 year old me had no idea that they were nonbinary, why they struggled to dress for how they felt, or experiment with Chap fashion in a way that felt right. I needed to learn so much about myself before I would even be able to start thinking about how I could fit myself into the world, and see the way that androgynous fashion could exist and had always existed within this beautiful vintage world. Sometimes fashion helps us find ourselves, but sometimes it needs you find your way to it instead.
I think the version of me that’s sat in the sixth form common room, listening to a terrible quality version of “Straight Out of Surrey” on my iPod shuffle would be amazed at where I ended up, that those few songs actually made a difference to who I am, that me would think this me is cool. And I’m pretty ok with that.
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If you want more please check out my last articles:
- Cute and Casual (Don’t Judge a Nonbinary Person by Their Cover)
- The Little Lost Prince and How They Learned Their Clothes had Memories
- Bags of Personality
- Let’s Talk about Gender Presentation and be Empowered
- The Doctor’s New Clothes
Written by Holly Rose Swinyard