I wear clothes. Being a musician, I even wear them to perform. Someone asked me why I wear what I wear on stage.
I’m a jeans-and-t-shirt woman. On stage, I’m a nice-jeans-and-nice-t-shirt woman, often with a button-down – clean, patchless. All clothes must pass the Goldilocks Test; they’ve got to be jusssssst right.
First of all, they’ve got to FIT. My body changes often due to a million and two factors (menstruation, inflammation, diet, exercise, how many hours I spent in the car yesterday, the passage of time) so there are various jeans for various size-shapes of me. I can’t be on stage sucking in my belly or pulling up my pants and wasting precious energy that should be spent on doing my job. I can’t leak focus on discomfort.
I have to be able to MOVE in whatever I’m wearing. Nothing fancy. No Martha Graham stuff, just move like a person in the world. Stand up, sit down, grab a guitar, lean back from the piano, feel my feet ground down and my chest and belly open easily for air. (Bra too tight, I can’t breathe. Bra too loose, potato sack – or my boobs feel like they’re falling into the world. If it’s over ninety-five degrees, maybe no bra, but that has to fit my mood and the feel of the shirt. Sodden boobers, yech.) If I’m wearing a belt, it has to do its hold-up job without corseting me. Pants don’t have to stretch, but if they don’t they must allow for my actual shape and motion. Shirts can’t snag my armpits and they have to be long enough to address the irremediable case of plumber crack. Socks, cushion me enough in my boots. Boots, light enough to let energy move through my legs.
The clothes have to FUNCTION. Certain kinds of cotton will make me sweat out a shirt in minutes. Too light a color and I’m a blur in bright lights. Polyester will stink faster than it takes me to look up how to spell “polyester.” (Selling merch or hugging friends post-set I don’t want to worry about armpit-tear-gas. Side note: Please stop with the tri-blend nonsense; It stinks!!!)
Maybe this is the night to wear my WOMEN 2020: BECAUSE FUCK THIS SHIT shirt. Or maybe that’s tomorrow night. Ruffling feathers is great, but if I’m going for impact, I want it to land. If I need layers, they’ve got to fit and move, too. Blazer with nothing under it? Probably not in a freezing cathedral.
And on the road, all this needs to be easy to pack and easy to clean.
Slightly more ineffably, the clothes have to FEEL right. I need to feel like myself. After a lifetime of dysphoria and dis-ease, I simply refuse to be uncomfortable. (You think I “look like a boy”? Get out more.) Further: I dress for myself. Yes, I like to feel attractive (to the people I like to feel attractive to, which may be a smaller sliver of humanity than some) but I find that if my clothes fit, function, move and delight me, I probably do feel attractive.
The stronger at home I am the better I can bring my Voice through. On stage (at work) and off. The more at home I feel, the easier it is to access Delight, Groove. Fun, Surprise, and MUSIC.
And THAT really is my job.
So I ask you, women, especially, what are you wearing to work? Does it fit? Honestly? Do you have clothes for all the shapes and sizes of you, physically and emotionally? Can you move enough to do your job? Do the clothes function for what you’re doing? Did you put those clothes on as yourself, for yourself? Put differently: do you feel safe and at home? Do you feel strong, capable, available to yourself and your work?
If anything on or near your body makes you leak focus, GET RID OF IT. Set that shit on fire. And then get some clothes that, whatever your profession, allow you to make music of your work.
PS: When something has fallen out of rotation or no longer matches the criteria, it’s out. Clothing exchanges and trading at consignment shops are my faves. When I find things that work, I hunt down their siblings on eBay for cheap. (And keeping stuff out of the waste stream makes me happy.) Line-drying helps jeans, button-downs, and black cotton band T-shirts (yep, a whole drawerful) last longer. What tips have you got?
Willa Mamet: Singer and songwriter, Willa was born in a trunk and raised by performers of all kinds. She’s made music since about that time, singing irrepressibly and playing piano and guitar. With her musical partner, Paul Miller, she recorded two albums, East Hill Road and Let Somebody Love You, both of which won the VT Times Argus “Tammy” Album of the Year in 2013 and 2015. Her next album will be born in Spring 2020. Meanwhile, she plays out sola, with Miller, and other beloveds, bringing her unique blend of rapier tongue and honey heart to her audiences. Hear the voice that Patti Lupone calls, “Heartbreaking. Musical. Contemporary and ancient.”
Willa lives in Oakland, CA, with her beloved upright, her uncle’s guitar, a whole lot of elderberry bushes, and her six-pawed cat. She travels. A lot. For music.