The Weekend Australian - Review - - Feature -

The Ed­war­dians loved cross-dress­ing fe­male co­me­di­ans. They wore suits and bran­dished walk­ing sticks for all sorts of vul­gar play — and it al­lowed the women lee­way to make dou­ble en­ten­dres that would never have been sanc­tioned if they had been wear­ing skirts. But there were still pock­ets of dis­ap­proval. Dur­ing a royal per­for­mance, Queen Mary showed her ob­jec­tion to the fa­mous male im­per­son­ator Vesta Til­ley, not be­cause of her pat­ter but be­cause she was wear­ing trousers. The queen buried her face in her pro­gram to block out the shock­ing sight. The king had no such scru­ples and en­joyed the act im­mensely.

Paris-born Diana Vree­land, the great mag­a­zine edi­tor, showed how fash­ion can use camp to great ef­fect. As she grew older, she re­alised she must make her­self ex­tra­or­di­nary in a way as far re­moved as pos­si­ble from the con­ven­tional looks of the younger women who sur­rounded her ev­ery day at work in New York. She dyed her hair raven black, rouged her brow and ear­lobes and ex­ag­ger­ated her al­ready mem­o­rable voice by dra­mat­i­cally chang­ing tone and vol­ume — all of which was ac­com­pa­nied by mes­meris­ing eye and hand move­ments, the lat­ter helped by the many ban­gles she wore, which jan­gled in a care­fully or­ches­trated per­for­mance of sound, move­ment and speech.

To­day we have a new breed of camp in fash­ion, which is all about bor­row­ing clothes for a brief ap­pear­ance be­fore chang­ing and go­ing on to the next show. Mistress of this is Anna Dello Russo, creative con­sul­tant for Ja­panese Vogue. Or Daphne Guin­ness, who dresses in ex­tra­or­di­nary clothes of the high­est camp po­ten­tial but who al­ways looks her­self.

Fash­ion al­ways gives us what we want and, as shown by the ex­tra­or­di­nary de­mand for in­creas­ingly ex­treme heels and hand­bags, we all want camp. Drama is es­sen­tial in fe­male camp — think Tina Turner ca­vort­ing in a tiny mini or Josephine Baker danc­ing in 1920s Paris, naked but for a bunch of ba­nanas slung around her hips. That is one of the great things about the­atri­cal camp: it is done with a know­ing, self-dep­re­cat­ing hon­esty that makes the per­son in­volved as amused as the viewer.

Wittgen­stein; The Boys in the Band;

From top, Lib­er­ace in ac­tion; Mar­lene Di­et­rich, left; Tilda Swin­ton as Lady Ot­to­line Mor­rell in the film 1970 film

Bri­tish co­me­dian Ju­lian Clary, left; Josephine Baker

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