Saturday, May 29, 2010

Notes on the Women's Costumes in "Sexual Perversity in Chicago"

I hesitate to write this, as I don't have pictures and you have to rely on my descriptions to see what I mean. There are two female characters in "Sexual Perversity in Chicago." Their costumes have stuck in my mind.

As in "Fashion," each has only one costume. That gives the costumer just one chance to convey period, express character and further the story. In the program, the "company" is held responsible for costuming. To me, that means sort of "costuming by committee," which rarely works. I think, in this case, it may mean that each actress costumed herself. However the decision was made, it was a good one.

Deborah has a soft, V-necked knit dress in turquoise blue. She is in and out of it several times during the play, and it just pulls off over her head, revealing appropriately 70s-style underwear. She wears slides on her feet, that also come off easily. The dress is soft and feminine, and skims her figure in an attractive way. As she is a rather naive character, a romantic who believes that sex can lead to enduring love, this is appropriate.

Joan, on the other hand, is a little behind the times. I would put her dress more in the late 60s, which also speaks to her character. It is made of a shiny satin-like woven synthetic, with a high neck and gathered skirt. It is too tight across the bust, squashing her breasts. I didn't get a look at the back, but would be willing (almost) to bet money that it has an invisible zipper. The skirt conceals her figure. The fabric has no "give" or stretch whatsoever. Given the tightness of the sleeves, I suspect she needs help getting it on and off. The dress is dark blue, with some sort of large border print--poppies, maybe?--around the skirt. She wears dark hose and character shoes.

Before either character opens her mouth, we know that Deborah is romantic and open to the possibility of a relationship, and that Joan is not. Joan is insecure and wears her shiny clothes like armour. Given the possibility of a sexual encounter, she could change her mind thrice in the time it would take to get out of that outfit, with its buckled shoes, pantyhose, tight sleeves and back zipper. Deborah, on the other hand, is good to go in seconds.

The 70s were a very confusing time for both men and women. This was before AIDS and after The Pill. The Bernies of the world put a lot of pressure on women, seeing The Pill as a carte blanche...pretty much making anyone who was taking it fair game. The thought was, "well, you're on The Pill, so why not?" The question usually came up right after "What's your sign?" in social encounters. The Bernies had the line down pat...we weren't modern women if we weren't willing to drop our drawers for them. They could notch up the conquests with no fear of pregnancy, and it also freed them from that shower-with-a-raincoat-on thing with condoms. They all thought they had died and gone to heaven.

Some women felt that way, too. However, there were a lot of us who came out of these casual sexual encounters feeling damaged. We accepted our sexual freedom, but expected the Bernies to accept it also. That didn't happen, and the Bernies still saw us as sluts if we did drop our drawers and teases if we didn't.

You can't win with Bernie.

As you can see, the play has stuck with me and got me reminiscing about life "Back In The Day."

Costumes can be very evocative.

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