Six Months of Sequins
by BRITTANY JULIOUS
Winter never started. There was snow and ice on occasion, but what I remember most is the dull cold of late fall. We can see the effects of this now. A trip to the farmer’s market introduces higher prices and misshapen fruits or entirely missing vegetables. It felt like a respite from years before to have a winter that settled evenly, that was consistent from day-to-day. I thought about how I spent one year with my head always down, with tears born out of the wind by the lake. Spring never seemed so vital as during that winter. But manageable cold festers. We live in Chicago because we are masochists. We live in Chicago because we know it is all worth it. We live here with a small love of the brutality. If you can make it here, then you will realize everywhere else lacks something real and vital: the narrative of struggle.
The first blouse was purchased in early January, the day of my old friend’s birthday party. We don’t speak anymore. The top was perhaps a going away party, a means of framing the end of a friendship not because hate grew, but because who we are at 17 and 18 and 19 can never be who we are just moments later.
I spent the winter sweeping up black and gold and silver sequins. I leave a trail of glitter and sequins wherever I go. But each sweep is a reminder of what is to be accomplished: brighter days, laughter, a sense of peace.
This black top — structured, tough — hangs in my closet. I’ve worn it once. It’s too thick now for the summer heat, but when it was still bitterly cold only weeks ago, it felt just as wrong. What is freedom if not literal? There is the freedom of choice in which I choose to wear these things. And then there is literal freedom, to be free, to move swiftly and gently, or slowly and roughly. This blouse constricts. It requires straight backs, elongated necks. I’ve sat otherwise and the sequins and beads pierce my skin with precision.
Like many vintage clothing items, it was created for both literal and figurative control. Breasts are covered completely. But also, it can not be worn easily. A zipper in the back is for a lover. But I am alone like always, and so I zip haphazardly, with tools and trouble. I bend and shake until the job is done. And there I stand in this blouse, body set in place and even. I sat in the office of the director of a local dance company and the first thing he said to me was, “And you too were a dancer.” This is right, but most times my posture does little to give me away. I wore the top. It told of a past, a hobby, a possession of the body that had not been mine for years.
I love this dress. I love how it sparkles and I love the cut and the way it melts into my skin, as if it was made only for me. The moment of discovery was intense. It was exactly what I wanted, but was unable to articulate. Something lovely and beautiful and weird. Something that would not cost a lot. Something that was old and had history and character.
Vintage entices because of the imagined history of each dress or blouse or bag. But the way I wear clothing changes the longer I own a favorite piece. A lovely blouse becomes a form of armor, a means of protection from an outside world that conforms and questions. And each time the piece is worn, it is an attempt at recreation and affirmation. What was it like to wear for the first time? How did you feel? How pure was the moment?
All clothing options take confidence. Each blouse or skirt or dress is a statement of purpose. Not just who I am, but also who I want to be and what I want the world to see in me. We think of style — of outrageous style, of complicated style – as courageous. You must believe in yourself so deeply to be able to wear that shirt, those pants, that dress. But I wear those things and I visit a therapist once a week. This is my reality. I am playing at confidence at times, approaching self-esteem as performative. But from the performative, I can build an alternative reality, one that strengthens rather than destroys.
Clothing and style can function as a little pleasure, an everyday pleasure, and a way to appreciate beauty when it feels like there is not much of any in the world. I noticed - I notice - my affinity for things that sparkle and shimmer and glitter. I wear them day and night, but I wear them especially when it is cold outside, when I am feeling down, when I need something to feel good about, if for even a moment. The sequins and beads and sparkle are something nice to look at, but also personally defining. The sparkle is who I am, and if not who I am, then what I want to do and be.
I collect these items to be surrounded by tangible manifestations of beauty and perfection. In the beginning, I saw Marion once a week. I didn’t realize I needed her as much as I did until I was unable to get out of bed one Tuesday morning. I went to work the day before, but I could not remember what I did or how I spent my time there. I used to walk home and the walk was long not because of the distance, but because the blankness of my mind made the measure of time an impossibility. I went to work the day before, but that morning my limbs were heavier than ever. My mind was heavier than ever. My heart, the heaviest. It was just weeks before at my friend’s party, just weeks before when the first blouse was purchased. The next day was unseasonably warm and I walked around my neighborhood with an eye toward the gleaming.
On the rack of a local boutique was a deep blue, sequined and beaded blouse, fluttering and designed to look like a butterfly. I spent the past two years eyeing these blouses suspiciously at local vintage markets. This was a different level of sparkle, one that requested confidence in its owner. The blouses are heavy. They are not to be worn. Rather, the blouse wears you. Long, thick arms and broad shoulders only showcase. The body is hanger.
“I love this. Don’t you?” a salesgirl asked. “No one purchases these, but they’re so beautiful.”
I looked her square in the eye. “Do you have anymore?” I asked.
A day later, I went to Smart Bar with two friends and someone tapped me on the shoulder as I tried to lose my sense of place on the dance floor. The beauty of the dance floor is the beauty of dance music in general. It is why dance music increases in popularity. It allows for an escape and provides a visceral reaction to the music. It takes possession again and again. It delivers you to another place and then you come down, and there is a chance, however small, that what was just felt can linger long after.
I turned around and it was the salesgirl from the day before. She gave me a hug, eagerly. I could not process her reaction.
“I’m glad you got this,” she said.
“So am I,” I responded.
Brittany Julious is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She tumbls here and twitters here. She last wrote in these pages about the hooks. You can find an archive of her work on This Recording here.
"How Can U Luv Me" - Unknown Mortal Orchestra (mp3)
"Ruin" - Cat Power (mp3)