My interest in Costume & Culture arose as an extension of my research at the University of Hertfordshire, where I have been a contextual studies lecturer since 2004. A key source of interest for me is that studies in fashion frequently draw upon issues of identity. Identity is fluid, and dressing is a matter of identity construction. Clothing is the means by which we create and express our sense of self. The wearing of clothes provides us with an opportunity to transform ourselves: to appear smarter, thinner, cuter, richer, more mysterious.
While many clothes announce our identity, others replace it with one that is false or incomplete . This separation of costume and self is a theme that runs throughout this blog. As my previous posts have shown, clothing can be viewed as a mask and a fiction. It conceals the reality of the body beneath.
Catherine Davies proposes that costume can provide a ‘shield from one’s own morality’. It becomes a vital tool in deindividuation by ‘removing personal identification’, and consequently also removes ‘personal responsibility’ . In the notorious masquerade balls of the eighteenth century, the mask enabled escape from moral integrity . For children in Halloween costume, it absolves them of responsibility for their mischief.
There are costumes that move beyond deindividuation to dehumanization, removing not only personal identity but also its most basic components – those that make us human. These are costumes modelled on inanimate objects, which strip the wearer of any aspect of ‘humanness’. Dressed as inanimate objects, couples in white interlock in imitation of a plug and socket; teenage friends wrapped in rainbow colours line up like a row of Crayola crayons; Katy Perry presents herself onstage as a fried egg.
We can also find references to inanimate objects in surrealist fashion. However, there is an important distinction to be made between garments that feature objects as ornamentation, and those that fully adopt an inanimate identity. Alexander McQueen’s skull-print scarf did not present the wearer as a skeleton. Agatha Ruiz de la Prada comes closer to objectifying her catwalk models. Her F/W 2009 collection featured a garment in the shape of a durian.
In these costumes, wearers are dehumanised; apparently stripped of elements of human identity. Inanimate objects have no self-awareness or self-expression. This is perhaps what makes such costumes liberating. Humanity carries with it huge risks and responsibilities. If we have personality, we are at risk of being disliked. If we have free will, we risk making the wrong choices. By temporarily escaping our human identity we also escape the burden of responsibility that being human entails. While we are in costume, we are unaccountable for our actions. Dressed as an egg, Kerry Perry can be as silly as she likes. She is free to defy expectations.
 Miller, Kimerlya, Jasper, Cynthia R, and Hill, Donald R. ‘Costume and the Perception of Identity and Role,’ Perceptual and Motor Skills Vol.72, Issue 3 (1991), pp. 807-813, 808.
 Davies, Christie (2001), ‘Stigma, uncertain identity and skill in disguise,’ in Tseëlon, Efrat (ed.) Masquerade and Identities: Essays on Gender, Sexuality, and Marginality, London: Routledge, p. 31
 Castle, Terry, Masquerade and Civilization: The Carnivalesque in Eighteenth-Century English Culture and Fiction (London: Methuen, 1986), p. 2.
Katy Perry in egg costume: http://fashionisstupid.com/2010/08/22/katy-perry-as-fried-egg-the-hams-in-her-nether-regions/
Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, Durian dress: http://www.zimbio.com/pictures/trkLicgY14M/Agatha+Ruiz+De+La+Prada+Milan+Fashion+Week/04o7aspvlTz