Dress­ing the part, liv­ing the dream

The Australian - - LIFE - RUTH OSTROW www.ruthostrow.com

Spring has ar­rived and it’s com­ing up to play time. I’ve been in­vited to three fancy dress events in the next few weeks. Why so many? It’s about a world trend called cos­play, as in cos­tume play, that is steadily gain­ing mo­men­tum in Aus­tralia. In Ja­pan, where it all started, there have been restau­rants and places that cater for these dress-ups since the 1980s.

Cos­play and dress-ups are not just for nerdy Trekkies any more. There are sexy fetish events and count­less con­ven­tions pop­ping up ev­ery­where so peo­ple can go to clubs, par­ties, fes­ti­vals, ex­pos or a night of live ac­tion role­play­ing games dressed as their favourite film, tele­vi­sion or lit­er­a­ture char­ac­ter or anime, car­toon or video game hero. Any­thing or any­body, and they play that role all night or for days in the case of the Burn­ing Man Fes­ti­val in the Ne­vada desert.

Hark­ing back to the days of the mas­quer­ade balls, my first party will be gothic — and in shop­ping for a cos­tume I de­cide to try my luck at a venue for pe­riod cloth­ing called Gallery Ser­pen­tine, based in Syd­ney and on­line. While I’m be­ing helped into an elab­o­rate corset, and look­ing very Ste­vie Nicks or Kate Bush, owner Stephanie starts telling me about what happy peo­ple her clients seem to be, and that dres­sups lead to a strong sense of well­be­ing.

‘His whole pos­ture changed, he lit up and was so ex­cited. He saw that in that mo­ment he could cre­ate him­self’ STEPHANIE GALLERY SER­PEN­TINE OWNER

“Ba­si­cally I have no­ticed that when my clients and cus­tomers dress up, it al­lows them to ex­press some­thing that’s been re­pressed; a light switches on for them and they are sud­denly 10 times hap­pier,” she says. “You can feel it in their en­ergy.”

Stephanie says cos­tume play con­nects us to those times when we were al­lowed to be free in our imag­i­na­tion as kids, dress­ing up, cre­at­ing char­ac­ters. “It taps into happy mem­o­ries of be­ing truly alive. I just see peo­ple trans­formed when they do this,” she says, hand­ing me a pur­ple vel­vet cloak.

US psy­chi­a­trist Stu­art Brown, who has con­ducted ex­ten­sive re­search on play, agrees. He says hu­mour, games, rough-hous­ing, flir­ta­tion, dress-ups and act­ing out fan­tasy are more than just fun. They foster in­tel­li­gence and re­con­fig­ure the brain in myr­iad pos­i­tive ways that lead to suc­cess and well­be­ing. We are bi­o­log­i­cally wired to play and when cou­ples stop play­ing they of­ten break up. From a neu­ro­science stand­point, with­out play and make-be­lieve we shrivel in­side and out.

Stephanie says cos­tume play is good for teenagers, too, to break them out of their peer­pres­sure mould. She tells me of an ado­les­cent boy who was brought in by his par­ents to get some­thing for their wed­ding. He was sit­ting with his mo­bile, un­in­ter­ested and slouch­ing.

“For fun I chose the loud­est baroque red and white vest and a top hat,” she says. “He put them on and went, ‘ OMG!’ His whole pos­ture changed, he lit up and was so ex­cited. His body lan­guage trans­formed. He saw that in that mo­ment he could cre­ate him­self.

“I have older, big­ger women, too, who panic and say, ‘ Help me. I’ve got to go to a themed wed­ding. It’s a rare chance to look sexy. But you’ll have noth­ing in my size.’ I just corset them and they can’t be­lieve they have a waist af­ter all. It lifts their pos­ture and their self-es­teem.”

I know how these women feel. I watched my oe­stro­gen belt rise up to be­come breasts. Men get fas­ci­nated in here too, very flam­boy­ant in their cloaks and hats. Cou­ples who come to­gether of­ten get turned on watch­ing part­ners get dressed up. It’s part of the play­ful­ness.

Stephanie says any­one in­ter­ested in dress­ing up should type key words into Google or Face­book, or check out fes­ti­vals such as Su­panova Expo and Iron­fest (great me­dieval re-en­act­ments). “Age doesn’t mat­ter in this sub­cul­ture,” she says. “It’s about cre­at­ing from imag­i­na­tion, fir­ing up the joy, de­light and fun that you want to em­body.” For those who like it hot­ter, there are clubs for S&M, cross­dress­ing and fetish-wear (this week there is the Oz Kink Fest in Mel­bourne).

My spring has sud­denly be­come very Game of Thrones, and I may just come fly­ing in to one of my par­ties on a dragon.

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