Because You Can: Always Onstage

High-drama looks even a wallflower can love.

I love to dress up. And I’m not just talking about putting on a dress, high heels, and some makeup. When I dress up, it is full-blown, exhaustive, with all stops pulled out. There are hats, gloves, sequins, metallics, glitter, bloomers, petticoats, and gobs and gobs of blush. Call it theatrical dressing, everyday costuming, Xtreme style for Xtreme times. All you need to pull it off is some imagination and a big dose of confidence. Because when you are wearing a see-through tutu, sequined knickers, Victorian granny boots, a corset, and a rakish bowler—an outfit I once dreamed up but never executed because of a lack of some of the key pieces—people will stare. And you have to learn to enjoy it, or at least not mind.

I was never a particularly bold sort of person. My first instinct in any social situation was (and still is) to blend into a corner, pretending to be invisible. “Oh no, it’s just little old me! Please don’t pay me any attention!” But deep down inside there has always lurked a secret desire to be in the spotlight, to be different, to boldly go where women are actively discouraged to go. Even while I hid in baggy, shapeless blacks, I was constantly flipping through fashion magazines at the store (I was too embarrassed to buy them) to admire the editorials—all those weird, outrageous, amazing clothes that no self-respecting person would dare to wear (they wouldn’t, right?). Now I wear weird, outrageous (and hopefully amazing) clothes all the time. So what changed? Well, confidence.

In 2011 the fashion photographer Velvet D’Amour asked me to pose for some photos. I was unbelievably flattered; modeling for a fashion magazine was something I had previously only dreamed of. Velvet dressed me in tutus, corsets, a harness, and six-inch heels, topped by a pile of fake hair and an assortment of extravagant lace headpieces and had me bouncing around on a gigantic fluorescent exercise ball. As you might imagine, people stared. Some commented. It was unnerving at first. But here I was doing something I had always secretly wanted to do, and after about 10 minutes the thrill of that started to outweigh my discomfort, and soon I found I just DID NOT CARE what anyone else thought. I stood in the middle of the market in my (frankly painful) heels, twirling a cane and posing my heart out. It was scary, but it was also really exhilarating and liberating and empowering. Never again was I scared to go out in public in whatever the hell I wanted. All the world was my stage, and my clothes were my costume.

That shoot wasn’t a magic bullet—I didn’t go from wallflower to butterfly in one afternoon. It was the final push I needed after a long process of experimenting with my personal style. Confidence takes time and serious effort to develop. It takes lots of experimentation and rejection and stumbling and getting back up again. I think you have to be derided/mocked/insulted over and over and over before you get sick of paying attention to what other people think of you. If you’re scared of dressing the way you want to because of other people’s reactions, start collecting their shitty comments like badges of honor. Keep score. For every 10 insults, give yourself a reward: some bananas article of clothing you’ve been eyeing, or a fashion magazine, or a trip to the craft store for DIY supplies. Pretty soon other people’s negativity will start to sting less, and you might start to feel a little ego/happiness boost every time someone tries to put you down because of your outfit. You may even begin to feel sorry for them. Eventually you will stop even thinking about them. Voilà: confidence.

That’s the first thing you’ll need to dress like you’re onstage, in a silent movie, on the vaudeville circuit, or in the circus. Here’s the rest:

(Wait, a quick caveat: I don’t believe in “fast fashion”—stuff that’s cheaply made and cheaply sold—because I’m concerned with the human-rights and environmental abuses practiced by most of the big chains that sell trendy clothes at super-low prices, and because I buy clothes with the intention of wearing them for the rest of my life, so they have to be made to last. So some of the stuff I’m gonna suggest here might be a bit of an investment—but I think you get what you pay for!)


Top left: Knee-length Sisters of the Moon tutu, $45, Etsy. Bottom left: American Blossoms tutu, $60, Etsy. Right, Georgina of Cupcake’s Clothes.

I consider a tutu or a tulle skirt a wardrobe essential for every girl or boy. Get a ready-made one like the styles above, or make your own!


Left to right: Phone Booth Belle Dress, $125, ModCloth; Sea Shanty Singing Dress, $130, ModCloth; Elin on

Sailor style is always great for theatricality, especially when you add a hat! I absolutely adore these two dresses.


L–R: Top of the Byline Dress, $80, ModCloth; Star Carousel dress, $165, Gloomth’s Haunted Circus; Shan Shan of Tiny Toadstool.

Vertical stripes are so vaudeville, and incredibly readily available right now, so take advantage of your good timing!


L–R: High-Waist Suspenders Skirt, $60, ChicStar; Kelly-Marie Burdekin of A Harem of Peacocks; Georgina of Cupcake’s Clothes.

I love how opulent and dramatic velvet can be.


L–R: Hello Sunshine Dress, $65, Ashley Nell Tipton; ruffle-collar dress, $40, FabULoUs Vintage on eBay; Moona Saul.

Kids can usually get away with dressing way more inventively than most adults, so children’s clothing is a big inspiration for me. Cute dresses with collars are great for when you want to borrow some of the playfulness and freedom with which a first-grader regards their wardrobe.


L-R: Belles of Ireland coat, $70, ModCloth; Gretel Coat, $270, Collectif; swing coat, $144, SwingCoat on Etsy; Nicole Eymard of Fashion Forestry.

I rely on an outrageous, flamboyant coat to ensure I’ll be noticed in cooler weather.

And now for the most important part: accessories! Essential for grabbing people’s attention and NEVER LETTING GO.


L–R: Custom-made hat by Behida Dolic; Olney straw boater, $92, Tails of the Unexpected on eBay; 1940s felt hat, $39, Frocks ’n’ Frills Vintage on Etsy.

First you’re gonna need some hats. Most of the best eccentric dressers have a whole wardrobe of them.

L–R: Yours truly, Dents.

Top: Yours truly! Bottom: Gloves by Dents (red leather with ruffles and bow, $69; mustard leather, $65).

Dents, in my opinion, makes the best gloves.

Flappergirl; the Pineneedle Collective.

L–R: Women’s neck ties with lace flowers ($20.50) and with cats and polka-dots ($18.50) from Flapper Girl on Etsy; Annika of The Pineneedle Collective.

If you’re getting tired of your Peter Pan collars, try something new, like an ascot tie!

Teja Jamilla, Sockdreams, The Pineneedle Collective.

L-R: Hand-painted Art Nouveau Printed Tights, $26.50, Teja Jamilla on Etsy; Floral Flocked Tights, $12, Sockdreams; Annika of The Pineneedle Collective.

I love a good pair of embellished/printed/generally awesome tights. Teja Jamilla’s store on Etsy stocks beautiful tights that go up to a (U.S.) size 28! Sockdreams has a plus-size section—and I find that their straight-range sizes run really big.

Rachel Antonoff for Bass, Chie Mihara.

L-R: Bass ♥ Rachel Antonoff Women’s Snim Lace-Ups, $83 for similar, Zappos; Tamer oxford ($465.50) and Isias Navy flats ($360), Chie Mihara.

I’m always one for a mannish shoe, so I’m a big fan of Rachel Antonoff’s line for Bass shoes. Chie Mihara, too.

Alice Takes a Trip, Miss Patina.

Hello Sailor Dress, $89, Alice Takes a Trip; Oktoberfest dress, $70.50, Miss Patina.

Special mentions: Alice Takes a Trip and Miss Patina are two of my favorite independent designers when it comes to no-holds-barred style with a vintage flavor.

Nouveau Suede mask in Imperial Purple, Face Lace.

Nouveau Suede mask in Imperial Purple, $28, Face Lace.

And finally, if you want to pull out all the stops, here’s some Face Lace.

Have fun dressing up! ♦


  • Kaetlebugg August 5th, 2013 8:29 PM

    This is so lovely and fun and fabulously frilly! Not at all frivolous because its about confidence and awesomeness, but also frivolous in the best way possible because of the abundance of frilly things – I mean that as a compliment! So utterly fab.

  • KatGirl August 5th, 2013 8:31 PM

    Can I say something, Ragini?
    And I love that orange hat. ;)

  • KatGirl August 5th, 2013 8:32 PM

    No, seriously, this is the best Because You Can ever.

  • TessAnnesley August 5th, 2013 8:58 PM


  • katie August 5th, 2013 9:01 PM

    a round of applause for the different body types! (this sounds very sarcastic but its not)

    • dessertstealer August 5th, 2013 9:31 PM

      I agree. I love how Rookie shows girls of different shapes and sizes in its posts about style. It is not like mainstream teen magazines that only seem to show the same type of girl over and over again.

  • momobaby August 5th, 2013 9:05 PM

    It’s so great that you were able to discover your own personal confidence and style. I wish I had enough guts to dress the way I can see in my head, but fear of ridicule at school has always held me back. I feel like I’d be to embarrassed to pull it off.


  • Sophie ❤ August 5th, 2013 9:19 PM

    This is just… Me. I love this, especially the styles!

  • dessertstealer August 5th, 2013 9:29 PM

    I love these girls’ style.

  • kolumbia August 5th, 2013 9:39 PM

    Rookie has inspired me SO MUCH to try new styles and be noticed, rather than dressing to be invisible all the time. I’m proud to say that I’ll be going back to school rocking blue lipstick!

  • Yasha August 5th, 2013 10:03 PM

    I love theatrically dressing but my mom holds me back. She’s fine if my personal style is weird but it’s not what I want it to be. Any addvice on talking her in to letting me dress more eccentrically?

    • Fee August 6th, 2013 8:46 AM

      Maybe try taking it step by step and gradually getting more eccentric…or mixing crazy style with muted colours or vice versa. Ridiculous accessories with a simple outfit, that sort of thing, so she gets used to it and eventually you’ve got the full-on style you want!

  • theeyuh August 5th, 2013 10:27 PM

    This is so pretty! Todays my birthday and I just spent all morning playing dress up in my room.

  • AngstyTheBrave August 5th, 2013 10:28 PM

    PERFECT ARTICLE PERFECT MAGAZINE. Okay, so, I was about to post this rambling comment about my previous self-esteem issues and such. But basically what I wanted to say was I’m glad that I am finally letting myself dress how I like. This was a great article. This is definitely my style. Well, everything’s my style. I just really like clothes :)

    And that keeping score thing seems brilliant, especially if you’re just starting to wear clothes out of the ordinary.

  • wallflower152 August 6th, 2013 12:47 AM

    Thank you for mentioning your dislike of fast fashion. I only heard about this maybe two years ago but I try to avoid buying retail as much as possible to avoid contributing to the problem unless I know this retailer pays their employees fair wages like American Apparel or Etsy. But these places can be really expensive so I’ve been mostly sticking to thrift with the exception of underthings and jeans cuz it’s hard enough to find a good pair of jeans as it is. Pretty soon though I should have a decent income and I’m gonna buy SOOO many pretty clothes and it will be awesome! Thanks for the inspiration. I will be bookmarking many of these designers.

    • Madness August 6th, 2013 3:50 PM

      Its alarming to me how many people are unaware of the effects of fast fashion and the slavery involved with it. I’m really glad she mentioned it. I actually vowed to myself that I would by any new clothes again. I find a lot of my clothes at the thrift store and I also sew my own clothes. I like to use vintage sheets to sew with

  • suchacoward August 6th, 2013 1:26 AM

    as a theatre kid, i looooooove costume-esque/obnoxious clothing. lately i’ve been super into cool tights, like these bear ones i got online, and i’ve found that they make me feel a lot more confident. once you find that special outfit that makes you feel different in the best way, THAT is when you know you can wear anything and feel completely stylish. well, for me, anyway.

    this was such a great article, thanks ragini!!!!!!

  • Ozma August 6th, 2013 2:20 AM

    I love flamboyant clothes so much! I also thought it was really great how you mentioned avoiding fast fashion! I stopped buying retail clothing about a year ago and it’s totally possible to have the clothes you want with out spending a butt-load of money. Although, it does require patience.
    You have to go to the thrift store pretty regularly. Not just to look for the the items you want, but also to look for items you can rework into what you desire. Like ugly 80′s prom dresses. You can (easily) make soooooo many things out 80′s prom dresses.

  • cirqueduquirk August 6th, 2013 3:15 AM

    This article is so incredibly perfect. I’ve been head-over-heels in love with crinolines and tutus since I was little, but only started wearing them to school the past few years. Since then I’ve loved wearing theatrical outfits everywhere, and am now the head of the costume crew at my school!

    • retrogirl23 August 15th, 2013 1:30 AM

      That is so cool that you are head of the costume crew! I’ve always wanted to do something like that… How did you get involved?

      • cirqueduquirk August 16th, 2013 1:54 AM

        One of my friends was doing props for the play last year, and told me about it. I actually missed the interview to join, but went with her to the first meeting and talked to the former costume heads. I ended up on Costume Crew for both plays last year, and then at the end of the year I emailed the director to sort of apply for the position this year. :)

  • Eileen August 6th, 2013 7:36 AM

    face lace and bass shoes. this post was made for me.

  • Fee August 6th, 2013 8:44 AM

    I wish I had this confidence! I love Ragini’s articles, more please!

  • EmmaS August 6th, 2013 9:33 AM

    This article was brilliant! After reading it, I put on my cutest dotty skirt and my doc’s and wore them out! Thank you Ragini for the inspiration!

  • flocha August 6th, 2013 9:57 AM

    This article literally describes exactly how I feel. I am a shy person normally and don’t talk much, but a part of me really loves standing out with the clothes I wear. There is something weirdly satisfying about all the ‘cool’ year 11′s giving me the bitchy up and down look whenever I wear something unusual. I am so going to be following these tips.

  • EvaEvaEva August 6th, 2013 3:11 PM

    Love the blog and live this article! The photos really are fantastic!!!

  • Saana V August 6th, 2013 4:28 PM

    oh my this sounds dumb but i wish i could be something like this i guess? but everything is harder from where i live – less shops and it costs a lot to order something from online. (I ordered my confirmation dress from modcloth and the posting and customs cost 60 € whoops) But idk, the biggest reason why i can’t dress like this is that i don’t think i want to, at least yet, you know. I’m really not sure who I am but i hate dressing in that same comfy sweater every single day.


    • Ragini August 16th, 2013 5:20 PM

      Man, I feel you! I live in India, so everything I get is online! And tutu dreams are definitely happening for me this year as well!

  • Monroe August 6th, 2013 4:44 PM

    Love love love. EXACTLY the look I’m going for.

  • Erin. August 6th, 2013 9:32 PM

    Hey, thanks for this! As a quiet, socially awkward/anxious person who has only ever worn oversize (“I’ll grow into them!”) clothes, I get where you’re coming from. It’s awesome that you were able to grow out of this and to be able to express yourself through fun, whimsical clothes. It’s totally true that, when you dress super plainly, it’s probably because you don’t want attention. But then it gets to the point that, when you do wear something nice, people can’t quite believe it. And then you start to wonder, “what exactly do other people think of me?” Like, do they think I’m just some slob? I mean, yeah, you’re not “supposed to” care about what other people think of you, but when you’re trying to avoid attention by dressing boringly and still end up getting negative attention, it’s weird.

    So I’m gonna try. And, also, I love all the pictures of girls/women with different body types. Sometimes I feel like, because I’m not a size 2, I can’t wear anything, which is so not true, but I feel that way anyways.

    Which leads me to a question: how can I find good fashion blogs by girls with a variety of body types? Like, I keep trying to find grunge fashion blogs, and all I come up with are tumblr blogs posting stuff from We Heart It, and all the girls in the pictures are super skinny. Not that I have anything against skinny girls, but I can never figure out if I can actually pull off any of the looks.

    • Ragini August 16th, 2013 5:19 PM

      Argh, so late at replying to comments! Yes, completely agree, it’s hard to let go of what people think! It still affects me, but not as much as it used to. It’s a long process, I guess! So happy to know you’re going to try, go you! :D

      About grungy fashion blogs by bigger girls, Zalia Mak used to be pretty grungy, but her style has changed in recent times. But her old stuff is all here! Hope that helps!

  • Brodieburgers August 7th, 2013 3:29 AM

    I really liked this article and it has inspired me to be daring with what I wear. I had forgotten that what makes an outfit is how much confidence you have wearing it. I’ve wanted to wear some interesting clothes before but what stopped me was what people would think. But if I think about that too much, I won’t have any fun. So I should just be me.

  • womanalive August 9th, 2013 9:31 AM

    Soooo agree on the fast fashion point. And it’s actually so easy to go without. Thrift stores and etsy have everything. (Sometimes I do cheat by buying off the clearance rack; I reason that at that point my purchase is just a throw-away item and is not encouraging them to make more…not quite fair reasoning but close.)

  • abby111039 August 10th, 2013 8:55 PM

    This is literally SO inspiring. <3

  • Ting August 21st, 2013 5:20 PM

    I find that when I wear stuff that’s a little bit bigger than life to school, a lot of the teachers appreciate it, even if some students don’t (as long as it’s appropriate for school). I always try to focus on the positive comments people give me, and if I love it, make sure I wear it to where ever I feel like it.