Turns out that Kerry Godliman is a bit like Worzel Gummidge – but without the detachable head. She lets Standard Issue into the wardrobe department of her real life.
Illustration by Louise Boulter
I’ve just got back from the school run and looked in the mirror. I’ve got bed hair, no make up and under my coat I’m wearing my pyjama top. I look like a hospital patient that’s nipped out for a fag. The school run is a safe place of dishevelled abandonment, and this is the costume.
I would never dream of going anywhere else looking like this. When I go to meetings or standup gigs, my makeup and hair is attended to. For the grown-up world I carefully consider what costume to wear and might even squirt on a bit of perfume. I can do groomed-ish. We all wear different costumes for the different roles we play in life, don’t we?
When I was a kid I loved Worzel Gummidge. I don’t want to upset anyone, but if you’re under 37 you really missed out. Worzel Gummidge was an extremely pleasing TV programme from the late 70s about a scarecrow that came to life and had Una Stubbs as a love interest. He had a variety of different heads that he could remove and attach to suit the different needs he wanted to perform. I’ve always kept that concept close to my heart. I don’t change my actual head, but the way I present myself does have different looks for different needs. These different costumes reveal a variety of my life roles.
When I’m being a standup comedian I wear jeans and a blouse, no patterns. I always wear makeup and rarely big jewellery. I want to keep the attention on what I’m saying, not what I’m wearing and I need to be comfortable. If I’m meeting a friend I might wear a skirt and tights. I might opt for big earrings, or a colourful necklace. I’ve even been known to go floral. Once in a blue moon I go to a party, and can rock a glam look. I can totter around in heels for at least and hour and 18 minutes. There are roles from my past that have been retired now. Like I occasionally used to work in the corporate world and wore a suit. I loved my one black trouser suit. It made me feel smart and effectual. I was a total fraud and always felt like a fish in a desert in that office type environment. But I like playing dress up, and felt it empowering.
When I first started seeing my husband he had trouble decoding my communication style. If I asked, “How do I look?” he’d reply: Fine, or great, or lovely or nice. But then I’d ask, “What’s this outfit saying?”
“What?” He’d blink back at me. “What do you mean ‘saying’?”
Well, different outfits can be saying all kinds of different things, can’t they? They can be saying ‘lonely art teacher’; they can be saying ‘confused roadie who’s stuck in the 90s’, or ‘aggressive therapist’, or ‘unpublished poet’, or ‘harassed mum’.
He’s on board with all this doublespeak now, and can quickly assess if an outfit is ‘saying’ the required sub-message. “You look like a creative type who has flamboyance, and wit, but can be serious if needed, and very reliable… And smells nice.” Bless him. He’s a keeper.
If I have to go straight from the school run to a meeting or a rehearsal I’ll wear makeup and dress like a professional adult. “You look glamorous!” said a comrade mum. Glamorous? I can be upgraded to “glamorous” just because I’ve got lippy on and no encrusted Weetabix down my front.
If I feel like I’m in the ‘wrong costume’ it can be a remarkably unsettling feeling. I want to grow out of that weird sensation I’ve had since girlhood where I feel my outfit defines who I am. I should know better by now. When some one impresses me with their talents I never consider what they’re wearing. I think I’m old enough to dump imposed and fictional notions of what is the ‘right’ outfit.
One heroine that comes to mind is my childhood friend Zoe Cook. Zoe Cook came to my Cowgirls party as a cat. She was older than me and had an air of mystique. She wore a black leotard and black sheer tights and had a cat mask, complete with whiskers. I stood before her in my Stetson hat, bandana scarf and tasselled waistcoat, at my own party, surrounded by 10 other cowgirls and I thought, “I’m in the wrong outfit.” Zoe Cook swaggered that cat costume like an actual cat. Her outfit was saying, “ I’m a cat and you’re a cowgirl. So what?”
Kerry Godliman is a comedian and actress and mum, who dabbles in a bit of multitasking.