Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Art of the Bat


As Halloween lifts its head in the world context, costume and horror become part of an everyday ritual for some of us. Make that witch hat, prep those cat ears, reference those vampires.....all part of a millinery studio's to-do list. We see Halloween as a relief from the norm, nowadays.  An instant flicker of submerged reality, an escape from our perceived complications. With TV helping us along the way and Comicon now part of some internal lexicon on the plane of popular culture, costumes are often our interpretation of who and what we want to be. Since we were little runabouts in ghostly sheets, preying upon neighbors for our intake of sugar, costumes have grown up. The inspiration for those counter personae now seems rooted in comic books, film, tv spreading wide and far the possibility of becoming anyone or anything, if only for one night.

Bela Lugosi

Dracula's bride takes many forms.  Space age creatures and heroes, from Groot to Wonder Woman now amble serenely through party or gathering or convention.
Katy Kattelman and the author
The theory of costume as dress, or dress as costume is fast becoming vernacular. You can own a corset for many occasions, pulling it out of your closet for special affairs, or wearing it under a denim jacket. We did the same in 1980's Rockabilly days with our long-line Merry Widows and crinolines paired with vintage cowgirl boots and motorcycle jackets as substitute for  tuxedo and fancy dress.  The norm, for some. Costume for others.
Claire Fraser, The "Bat Suit " (courtesy of Terry Dresbach)

Watch your favorite TV show and behold wardrobe transformations take place all over the world.  Outlander, and the genius of Terry Dresbach and her crew have made tartan a de rigeur element once again. 18th Century riding habits are translated a la Claire ( female protagonist from Diana Gabaldon's world- shaking series of books and heroine to Jamie on Starz' series now in its 3rd season).

Bela Lugosi made the cape a required part of anyone's proper Dracula wardrobe, from the 1930's onward, when the film was released. But capes and shrugs and stoles and wraps were a truly necessary element for centuries.  It was cold. And so, back to Claire, in Outlander, and her Bat Suit.
Fashion photography by Henry Clarke, 1960s.
Janis Joplin
The Bat Suit, a phrase coined by designer Terry Dresbach, and the cape that tops it in the tv series becomes a time-travelling wardrobe for her in one fell swoop. Capes were part of the 1960's-70's dress-up era as we went from modish snow bunnies to Janis Joplin admirers.  Capes were worn by women in  the fashion plates of editorial Vogue and the hippie granny square rebirth of  San Francisco Haight Ashbury streetwear fashion. Capes and ponchos have been part of our culture in facets not always linked to costume. The wearability and protective nature of these garments lend a sense of normalcy to character improvisation.
Claire's cape, as part of an outfit she whipped up (euphemistically) for herself to regress to the 18th Century has to translate from 1960's conservative styles to daily usage in the unsettling daily routines of the 1780's. Cape, as part of her "Bat Suit" lined with pockets, as handbag, kitted out to prevent inquiring minds from wondering if she were a witch. (Watch the series, and read the books for all the witchy references).
Yvonne Craig as Batgirl and Burgess Meredith as the Penguin 
The reference is taken from the popular 1960's Adam West/Burt Ward interpretation of Batman.  Seen on TV with  a slew of Hollywood names as villains, this series brought the cape into our teenage homes. Yvonne Craig played the caped female version of Batgirl, and the image leapt from the pages of our coveted comic books to part of an iconic trail of heroes and heroines. In capes.
Capes lend a note of romance, mystery, and always, a place to stash your thingamajigs. Bela Lugosi didn't need to stash anything, since Dracula could transform at will.  But with our modern penchant for carrying the world in our pockets and pocketbooks, a cape allows for hiding, protecting, and serves as a broad brushstroke in style.
Pity Claire doesn't go in for headpieces.