A Songwriter’s Uniform
Johnny Cash wrote an entire song about his iconic wardrobe:
Ah, I’d love to wear a rainbow every day
And tell the world that everything’s okay
But I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back
Til things are brighter, I’m the Man in Black
Cash’s striking wardrobe — usually an entirely black suit — lent a somber and confident air to his concerts. A goodly number of performers have a uniform, an outfit they don each evening as they take the stage. Whether it’s Taylor Swift’s sequins, Steve Martin’s three-piece white suit, or Lady Gaga’s bizarre outfits, costuming can have a huge impact on the show. Music has become a visual art in our age, with the appearance of the performer being only slightly less important than the talent.
Touring songwriters are not very well known for their stage theatrics and costuming. We tend to rely on the strength of our lyrics, the quickness of our fingers, the human-to-human to connection. Still, there are many people in the folk/Americana world who dress to the nines and paint on a beautiful face for the bright lights of a house concert.
For my first few years of touring, I was living out of an internal frame camping backpack. My few articles of clothing were constantly wrinkled and I owned literally no makeup. I changed my clothes in parking lots and showered less than I would’ve liked. I did not embrace the glamour of being a touring songwriter, but I did not care. I was living the high adventure about which I had always dreamed, so it didn’t matter if everything I owned was procured from secondhand stores.
A bit more than 10 years past my first outing into the world of traveling folksinger, I am more confident. I am more sure of my music, my worth, and the volume with which I need to broadcast those strengths. However, I have no idea what to wear.
A woman in her mid-30s in any career is in a place of limbo. We have moved past youth and into motherhood, even if we don’t choose the path of child-rearing. We are told to dress with more maturity, but still be sexy. While still being judged mostly on the quality of my skills, I feel more strongly than ever the pressure to polish, tighten, and pretty things up.
The weight of my deepening crow’s feet is heavy on mind, and my mind is one part of my body I would much rather use for songwriting. So, as a woman and a musician, I am starting to put together my uniform. At this point in my life, it will include makeup that will make my emotions legible under the lights. It will include colors that compliment my arms, which have grown strong from carrying two babies. It will include styles that show off the stories I’ve earned as a person who has always followed her heart. My uniform will serve as a tool I will employ to take me further down the road.