Modeling is hard.
That's what I learned on Monday night — among other things (I'm a large in Lip Service clothes, which are clearly built for skinny 17-year-olds. Lip liner can, in a pinch, become lipstick. It is possible for a pencil skirt to fit me). Turn this way. Bend at the waist, but stand up straight. Nose to the camera; chin down. Put your elbow out. No, the other elbow. Not that far. Hook the other thumb in your pocket. Be tall. Right shoulder down. Farther. Kick that hip out. Farther. Great. Hold that for 10 minutes. Now smile. "Being pretty is haaaard!" Stephan Andresen, the owner of Delphina, says, laughing. Forget being pretty; we're just trying to stand with our feet in the right places. And these shoes are trying to slip right off my feet.
I'm not a model. Not by a long, long shot. But it was fun to pretend for a few hours, to have clothes tossed over a dressing room's curtain wall and to sit still while someone else straightened my hair and put on makeup on my face than I've worn in the last year combined.
I almost asked someone else to do this, but I'm glad I didn't. When I was talking to the owner of Delphina last week for this story, it came up that they do "lifestyle" shoots, where they put together outfits from their stock, making examples for those who, like me, aren't that good at matching their hook-and-eye pleather corset tops with steampunk skirts, or picking out the right pink heels to wear with skintight jeans. That, I thought, would make a different sort of illustration for a story: not a shot of the staff in their natural environment, but a photoshoot with their clothes. On me.
OK, the "me" part came later. I had to talk myself into it on the trip back to the office.
It's slightly amazing how quickly things can come together when all parties are enthusiastic. I turned up at the shop at 6 pm on Monday; by a bit after 8:30, photographer Darris Hurst had tens of shots of me, Andresen and Delphina buyer April Smithart-Unruh.
But first, I tried on clothes. A vivid blue plaid minidress with a barmaid-ish ruffle and a corset-laced front that Avril Lavigne might've worn on her first tour. A vinyl outfit that gave me a new appreciation for my college roommate who complained of the way her vinyl-clad thighs rubbed together when she walked. A "kinda red army" blouse with heavy, snap-laden cuffs and a red vinyl buckled collar. I tried to fit into several of the world's shortest skirts, but they would've been indecent in the size available. I wore a long tunic like a dress while reaching outside the dressing room for more clothes; I held a snug vinyl blazer together and wondered what I was supposed to wear under it. I unlocked the tiny padlock on a grey pinstriped suit that looked like someone's summertime, capri-length business suit had cross-pollinated with a refugee from fetish night.
It took a while for the clothes to work their particular clothing — costumey, really, since they were so different from my usual dress — magic, but by the end, I wanted to leave in one of the outfits, even as my jeans and Dresden Dolls tank top seemed like the most comfortable clothes ever made. There's a kind of joy in presentation that sometimes feels frowned-upon here, like it's too boat-rocking to venture out in something that boasts irrelevant straps or decorative buckles instead of practical rubber soles and easy-to-wash materials. It's a little bit of everyday theater that doesn't always suit Eugene's Subaru-driving, Croc-tolerating, Butte-hiking, fleece-loving side. Eugene looks at kids with heavy black eyeliner and patched-up hoodies downtown and sees trouble before it sees personality.
This was a night of borrowed personality. I failed to fully channel my inner Amanda Palmer (choose the rockstar of your choice, here) — even the pretend-you're-a-rock-star shots look like me being me, too self-aware, not far enough out of my own world, where I could try harder. Or so I like to imagine. As much as you tell yourself you're perfectly comfortable playing dressup and rocking pointy-toed high heels, once the camera comes out, you're either an exhibitionist or you're not.
I'm not. I'm a fencer; I even play sports behind a mask. But fencing, and the way my body needs to position itself during fencing, gave me something on which to base my understanding of how to shift the way the photographer asks. You must do all these things with different parts of your body at once — well, that, I'm familiar with. Bend at the knees. Not so far. Back a bit. Hold one arm out, just so, bent elbow, palm up; hold the other at this unnatural angle, but relax. Loosen your shoulders. Don't go too far; find that place where you're incredibly upright and yet not tense. Or at least not too tense. Now: lunge.
That, I understand. So it's not too far to the long list of instructions I loosely quoted at the top. They're just different; different motions, different poses. I never quite realized I have such a habit of turning my face to my right when there's a camera in front of me. I kept having to be told to brave the lens face on. And to drop my chin a little bit.
We posed with a guitar, with an amp, with me pretending to sing, with me dooming myself to a precarious kick-and-turn move because I kicked my leg up while wearing my favorite skirt. Kick one knee up while turning your upper body to the camera; keep the right hand on the skirt's strap, and don't let it move off your butt; drop that right shoulder down, down, down; remember where your chin and nose are. I'm not sure I ever got it all at once. It was like the first day of class, with no chance to come back remembering any of it. And it was really, surprisingly, fun, even if it's a little goofy to look at the pictures and see my uncertainty, my unfamiliarity, right there on my face. That was part of the point: Break out of my comfort zone! Do something unfamiliar and maybe a little awkward!
And get some nifty pictures out of it, too.