The power of disguise - finding or losing yourself

Fashion’s impact on identity 

Since the dawn of fashion, humankind has experimented with expression through clothes, outfits, accessories, makeup, hair, masks, costumes, and so much more. There are countless of artistic expressions that find their beginning in what people put on their bodies. It’s kind of like character customization. For me, the most authentic and confident version of myself emerges when I prepare for a night out. To do my hair, put on the most flattering clothes I own, a pair of high heels & a booold dark eyeliner, while listening to Beyonce and Rihanna – it’s a ritual. You feel unstoppable, even if it is just for a few hours. But normally, people wouldn’t call what I just described a ‘disguise’. Where do we draw the line between what we call a disguise and what is simply a tool to make us feel special? Have it be feeling anonymous, more confident, androgynous, or seeing things from another perspective – what do we consider the limit between ‘altering oneself’ or simply dressing up? 

Thin line – disguise & self-expression 

Last week I embarked on a fun little experiment. I got to be someone else for a day, or at least that was my intention. What would that entail? Well, I borrowed the easter bunny costume we have on campus and (possibly) taunted my fellow students. Furthermore, I got to do all the things I had always wanted to do on the grounds of BUas, without anyone seeming to mind or question me. The power a big, furry costume holds, huh? No one would dare tell me to leave them alone if I was bothering them or approaching them, everyone smiled at me and was up to entertaining my presence. To be completely honest, my behaviour wasn’t really that different than what it is normally (I’m a tad bit annoying in general). What changed was how I was perceived and reacted to. When the people I approached viewed me as an ambiguous bunny rather than an individual, they readily accepted my presence. 

This got me thinking, why do we call only certain fashion expressions a disguise? The official meaning of disguise is ‘to give a new appearance to a person or thing, especially to hide its true form’. For example, using a fake mustache for espionage or a celebrity incognito for a prank. But is that all there is to that word? Styling hair, applying makeup, wearing high heels – all these alter our appearance and affect how we feel. They are the daily alter egos that shape our identity. In my opinion, it’s very easy to lose sight of who you are when all you can see is who you want to become. That is why to me all fashion expression can be considered a disguise. But does everyone feel the same way about this? 

Identity preservation: Insight  

To figure that out, I decided to gather some insight into how another person perceives fashion’s transformative allure. That is why I sat down with a friend of mine to discuss if my opinion potentially resonates with her, or if disguise is simply a sort of escapade of your day-to-day persona. My friend Angie is (directly quoted) ‘interested in all things fashion but is a broke b*tch and can’t afford to buy the clothes she wants’. She has tumultuous experience in set design, which of course includes costumes & make up preparation for the actors, which makes her a person of interest to me when it comes to discussing disguise, since she has hands-on experience with giving people a ‘makeover’ and styling them.  

Dima: So Angie, I am interested in knowing, what is your definition of disguise?  

Angie: I would say it’s to cover your reality using different tools. Basically hiding your identity. 

Dima: Well then, I’m interested, how often would you say you use a disguise of some sort? 

Angie: Every time I need to look professional. I think I’m not a very professional-looking person. When I used to work in an office, I felt like that from time to time, especially when I met international clients.  

Dima: For you to be in that office, you definitely have a skill set that has brought you there, right? So, would you say you have some sort of imposter syndrome when it comes to ‘being professional’?  

Angie: What helped me to not feel like an imposter was the fact that my colleagues felt the same way as me. I usually only feel inadequate in my professional ‘look’ when it comes to first impressions, but to be honest, when there were production days, no one was dressed ‘professional’ – neither the staff nor the clients.  

Dima: Would you say looking a certain way – wearing the ‘appropriate attire’ is just a societal standard or does it actually make you feel better about yourself? We have all heard the expression ‘dress to impress’, or sayings such as – ‘dress for the job you want, not the job you have’, but is there any truth to those statements? Does being more put-together actually put you in the correct mindset for what you have to do?  

Angie: No (definitive). The ‘rules’ of looking professional have been set a long time ago. In my opinion, that’s a bit stupid, since you can be a very professional person, but not look the part. I wouldn’t say that when I disguise myself, I feel more capable.  

Dima: Why do you think people don’t consider doing your hair or makeup, putting on clothes, or dressing up as disguising yourself? What is the line between the two? 

Angie: In my opinion when you put a lot of makeup for example, that is a form of disguise. If it is just doing your hair and being more natural, you don’t change that much, so that is why I perceive it as not being a disguise.  

Dima: This is what I am mostly confused about. I think that disguising oneself is not about being natural or not, even if you put a tad bit of lipstick on, to me that could be considered a disguise. Because in a sense it makes you feel a different way about yourself. More confident for example, or more capable, or sexier. Isn’t that the whole point of disguise, to ‘alter your ego’?  

Angie: Alter your ego? 

Dima: Well, play into some of the qualities you already own as a person, but enhance them by just putting on lipstick for example. 

Angie: For me, disguise is when you change your whole appearance. If you only put on lipstick, that doesn’t change how you look that much. If you perceive the word as more metaphorical, I think that what you are saying makes sense. I just think it’s about how you interpret the word. For me, the word means completely changing and hiding from your looks, running from yourself. To you, it means using fashion tools to feel a different way about yourself, even if it’s just feeling more confident.  

Dima: Well said, it all comes down to a point of view.  

Angie: Exactly. 

The act of adorning yourself with garments, accessories, and styles extends beyond mere appearance – it becomes a gateway to a nuanced understanding of personal identity. The discussion I had with Angie did give me food for thought as to how different people could perceive the notion of disguise. While some view it as a complete departure from your true self, such as her, others – like me, perceive it as a spectrum of self-enhancement – embracing qualities that already exist within.  

Ultimately, the debate over whether fashion constitutes as a disguise may be less significant than acknowledging its profound impact on self-perception and confidence. Everything does come down to perception. Is fashion a disguise or not is something that probably differs from person to person. But at the end of the day, why does it really matter? Self-expression is something detrimental to human existence. It is art, and we cannot live without it, so we might as well just have fun with it and do what feels right. Identity is not to actually be preserved, it is to be explored and enjoyed.  

Stay tuned for Dima’s Hot Takes, 4th edition.  

Until next Thursday, toodles.