"too extreme and not suitable; making too much effort, or demanding too much effort and attention"YouTube/dolce and gabbana

Content Note: This article contains brief mention of street harassment

 “Your outfit’s so extra.” When I first heard the word a few years ago, I frankly had no idea what it meant. Still, I gave a chuckle that the social pressure of the situation demanded, with (I hope) only a hint of strained awkwardness. After talking to friends and some Urban Dictionary research, I was shocked and even rather offended that the joking had really been at my expense. It was at best a backhanded compliment, and I had a distinct jolt of panic - was the way I was dressing too much?


adjective, slang 

too extreme and not suitable; making too much effort, or demanding too much effort and attention [Cambridge English Dictionary]

I’m a pretty image-conscious, at some times arguably image-paranoid person, and I doubt anyone who knows me would describe my dress sense as anything other than distinctive or eccentric. I wear clothes that aren’t originally intended for my gender, and I make pretty bold choices far beyond that - bright colours and what would normally be called statement pieces are pretty much my everyday. My style didn’t necessarily feel like an expression, those were just the clothes that made me like what I looked like, that made me, in a very basic sense, happy.

But while my concern for my presentation to the world had at times been fairly consuming, I had somehow survived into a naivety of presuming I looked acceptable as long as I put some effort in. I certainly wasn’t dressing for other people, but I felt comfortable in what I was wearing, and never paid much attention to whether or not it could be perceived as too much.

Now, there was a sudden, crushing weight of judgement. The condemnation of the overdone, of the over-the-top, has become just as savage and censorious as our disdainful view of those we perceive as lacking in care for their own self-image.

By all means, make an effort, but don’t go too far. You can wear make-up, but not too much. Wear bright colours, but not too much. God forbid you look gaudy, or stand out from everyone else.

I can hardly blame people for being visually critical. Like no other time in history we are surrounded and bombarded by aesthetic images that demand our attention and judgement - in marketing, on social media, on the small and big screens. With decreasing attention spans and ever competitive markets, there is even more emphasis on immediate recognisability and quick consumption. We base entire opinions, and even actions on the purely aesthetic - judgements are lightning fast and surface level, to the point of intense shallowness.


Mountain View

Breaking the binaries of fashion

And I'm hardly guiltless myself - I can't possibly claim I've never judged what someone looks like, but that is entirely their choice, they don't owe an explanation or a reason to me or anyone else about why they dress the way they do. 

In spite of attitudes towards non-conventional dressing seemingly coming on leaps and bounds, with celebrities choosing to break convention at major events now a common occurrence, it’s not always that simple. I’ve heard people openly discussing my gender in a language they presumed I couldn’t understand, I’ve heard people openly laughing at me in public places because of the way I dressed. At some points it has felt like a horrifying pressure to conform, to fit into a normative model of dressing that would make those around me, and ironically possibly myself for a short time at least, feel more comfortable.

But, whether you know it or not, everything you wear is choice - an expression of your thoughts, feelings or identity. And those are things that shouldn’t be, and can’t be, repressed for the sake of those around you and at a cost to your own happiness. Choosing to conform, or not. Choosing to stand out, or not. We make choices and forge an identity with our clothes, every time we leave the house. So maybe I do want to stick out like a sore thumb? Maybe I want to wear a bright yellow jumper that makes me look like the love-child of a Muppet and a traffic cone, what’s that to you? The way I choose to dress, no matter how ‘flamboyant’, is not an invitation for your critique or commentary.

Oscar Wilde said, “You can never be overdressed or overeducated”, so I propose we reclaim the overdressed: in spite of how you might be judged, keep dressing just the way you want. There is no better revenge than carrying on regardless. A delightful man recently leant out of a van window, as he waited at a traffic light, looked me dead in the eye, and said one single word - “disgusting”. Something that might once have crushed me to my very core seemed to have lost all its power. So I threw my head back, gave my brightest, loudest cackle, and carried on down the road, boots clacking on the cobbles and red beret artfully askew.

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