Amy, Rebecca, Rebecca, Amy - it's uncanny...
As I try to write about this particular edition of Dress the Ed, I suddenly realize I have precisely NO idea why we did this. Perhaps we were motivated by sheer curiosity; what would it take to turn a woman with a slightly haphazard approach to personal grooming into one of the glossy creatures we see tottering across our screens in The Only Way Is Essex? Did we do it just for laughs, as a ‘crazy’ stunt to see how people would react? Was it something to do to fill a Saturday afternoon, or an insightful experiment into the effect clothing and make-up can have on a woman’s sense of self? Let's cover our backs and go with all of the above [plus, I had a total lobotomy and forgot how much I hate having my photo taken in the 20 minutes it took you to convince me to do this --Rebecca].
Anyway. We arrived at the chic basement flat in Bow belonging to Rebecca’s friend Charlotte – a bona fide Essex Girl who had all the tools and experience to affect the transformation - and I took a ‘before’ shot of Rebecca in the courtyard while Char laid out her kit.
I suspiciously eyed the selection of wigs lurking on the bed, while she got to work on Rebecca’s make-up.
Bring on the wigs!
First up was Rimmel’s Match Perfect Foundation in Soft Beige followed by Hide the Blemish concealer. Eyes were done with Benefit Creaseless Crème Shadow and a delightful palette of eyeshadow which Charlotte reassuringly told me she’d picked up from a market stall on Roman Road. Eyebrows were defined with Benefit Brow from the ‘Primpsess’ Glamorous Eye Primping Kit.
Rebecca gets her orange on
At this point I started losing track of all the products that were being rapidly and professionally smeared all over Rebecca’s face, but I understand that among them were: Collection 2000 Shimmer Shades Way to Glow, St Tropez Shimmer Powder, Topshop Polished Glow Crème highlighter on the cheekbones, MAC lipstick in St. Germain and Collection 2000 Lock and Hold Lipgloss. Christ.
Oh wait, I forgot the liquid eyeliner, more concealer, Collection 2000 Volume and Definition mascara and a gigantic set of false lashes from Eyelure which made me blurt “you look like a camel!’. And finally, finally, Models Own nail polish in Pink Punch (I don't know why it's called that when it looks orange either).
We decided on the red wig in the end because it made Rebecca most closely resemble Amy Childs from TOWIE and she was set to wear one of the dresses from her clothing line.
Pretty, pretty vacant!
Rebecca tells me that it was when she put on the wig that she really began to feel like a different person. She was then zipped into the slinky bodycon dress from Amy Childs’ range and put on the snakeskin Christian Louboutins that she found in a Clapham charity shop for £20 (in Amy-speak, I am well jel). A little extra padding in the bust department and some celebrity-style “look at me! No, wait, don’t look at me!” shades and the transformation was complete.
Rebecca gets her pout on
So now it was time to introduce the newly glamorous Rebecca to the public. But she refused to go outside before downing some cava, which actually fitted quite well with her new fabulous persona. First stop: the bus stop opposite Charlotte’s flat in Bow.
Waiting at the bus stop
Despite her initial misgivings about stepping outside of her comfort zone in such a dramatic way, I think Rebecca was starting to really rather enjoy her new look at this point. She was holding herself differently, camping it up a bit (Essex girls and drag queens share a philosophy as far as make-up, hair and heels are concerned: more is more.)
"Oh my God!"
Apart from a few beeps and some slightly bemused stares from passersby, Amy/Rebecca wasn’t really getting much of a response, confirming my belief that in London you can dress as outlandishly as you like and no-one will bat an eyelid (God I love this city). So we forced her into the local newsagents where she sheepishly browsed while I skulked in the doorway taking photos.
Put that down please madam...
After forcing her to stand next to the fruit and veg stand outside (these photos are not fit for public consumption), we decided to put her out of her misery and retire to the flat. Off came the wig and, well, see for yourself…
So what did we conclude from this rather slapdash social experiment? I think we’re both interested in the way that different modes of dress can help shape or alter identity; the way you are perceived by others but more importantly, the way you see yourself. It doesn’t matter what ‘tribe’ you identify with, the principle is the same. A tomboy who lives in jeans and trainers and is forced by a domineering mother into a frock and heels for a wedding might complain of feeling like a ‘man in drag.’ A ‘girlie’ woman forced to abandon her elaborate make-up and feminine clothes could feel naked, exposed if deprived of her own personal set of symbols that she invests with certain powers or characteristics.
The fascinating thing about this particular dressing up game that we played was how, when Rebecca stepped behind the symbols – the mask of make-up, the wig, the shape-shifting dress and stance-altering heels, she disappeared. All we could see were the symbols and how she behaved while wearing them, not Rebecca herself. And I think that told us a lot about why we dress the way we do – by allying ourselves with one ‘look’ or another – whether it’s ‘indie girl’, ‘fashionista’ or ‘Essex girl’ – we are letting those symbols do the talking for us. It’s a kind of visual shorthand, a neat, convenient way to decode the many people we encounter every day. The danger is that we don’t bother looking beyond the symbols and base our understanding of a person on those surface notes. Don’t make assumptions.
Essentially, there’s nothing like a good wig and you should never judge another woman until you’ve walked a few metres in her stilettos. But I’ll leave it to my esteemed Editor to sum up:
"Eeek! I really didn't think this one through when I agreed to spend the day as a TOWIE extra. To say the whole look was out of my comfort zone is an understatement. I wear heels and skirts occasionally, but rarely at the same time, and you're much more likely to find me in a pair of jeans and plimsolls. My laissez-faire attitude to hair and makeup also means that five days out of seven my unwashed hair will be in a knot on top of my head rather than in a perfectly coiffed blowdry.
"What I really didn't expect was quite how different I felt once the false eyelashes and the wig were on. Apart from the fact that I quickly, and subconsciously, adopted the sort of vacant stare found on a particularly stupid King Charles spaniel, I instantly became a bit more...flamboyant. Camp, even.
"And once the tight white skinny dress was on? I was a whole new woman. I pranced, I posed, I felt amazing. Not so amazing that I could bring myself to leave the house without half a bottle of petrol station cava inside me, but still pretty good.
"I didn't feel like me at all, and I certainly didn't look like me. The dress, the hair, the massive eyelashes all turned me into a completely different person. A person who, as you can see from the pictures, was in dire need of some Spanx."