Never play with the gypsies in the woods
An orange, stocky-looking girl surrounded by a sea of lime green frills and luminous yellow bodices stands in front of a mirror, admiring her hairspray-soaked tresses. Behind her, a patient dressmaker helps her squeeze into a corset three sizes too small. Orange is extremely excited about the giant crème puff wedding dress with a fluffy white cat tail sewed onto the back awaiting her. The girl, not more than 17, talks seriously about how she simply must have a dress that outdoes previous gypsy brides in size and design, preferably with some scars left behind to prove it.
The girl is part of the ‘traveller’ community and highly popular British Gypsy Weddings documentary. When I first watched an episode and saw these common people falling about disgracefully in grotesque shades of neon, surrounded by six year old girls in stage makeup and bald-headed men with earrings, I felt disappointed.
I don’t know if I’ve been smoking my Earl Grey tea or entertaining a fantasy all my life, but I imagined gypsies as freckled free spirits in hoop earrings and billowy pants with jewels hanging off the ends, dancing around fires and eating figs. (The figs are optional in this image, but you get my point.)
I did not for one moment imagine that they would be people who make the cast from Eastenders look classy, who claim that God wants you to “look good” for him or who, when asked about the danger of melanoma from sun-beds, would respond nonchalantly: “If I get cancer, I get cancer.” And to top it all off; these travellers don’t even travel! They just live in rusty caravans!
There are some personal preferences I just can’t get my head around. I realise that as with free speech, everyone has the right to their own personal taste in fashion. If you wear clogs with boyfriend jeans, I salute you. If you sport Florence Nightingale nighties with tartan blazers to garden parties…then we could be best friends. But if you feel the need to put yourself through a night of chafing skin and heavy tulle that leaves you suspended in doorways for the sake of ‘style’ then I’m afraid you’re screaming up the wrong polystyrene bejewelled wedding cake.
I understand the thrill of dressing up, I love it as much as my mom‘s chicken pesto. I love it to the extent that I will put myself through Chinese feet binding if the heels are swag enough, if I’ve been promised a Banoffee colada or if I know I won’t be moving around too much. But I can’t see myself ever wearing something that would maim me or leave me looking like the love child of ABBA’s Agnetha Fältskog and a Strictly Come Dancing contestant.
Perhaps worse than these style atrocities are the ambitions (or lack there of) that these women centre their lives around. More than happy to leave school at 13, marry at 15 and multiply by 16, these girls see fake nails, fake hair and synthetic fabrics as the only things that are of any value. Once some inbred fool has pinned her against a fence and demanded her hand in marriage and she has been given the ’wedding of her dreams’ complete with a marshmallow wedding dress and stretch limo, the said gypsy girl will devote herself to a life of childbearing and preparing microwaved mash for her delinquent hubby.
I find this utterly tragic. Where is the hunger for knowledge, experience and success that comes with being a young person? Clearly all those corsets have been stifling brain cells as well as breathing activity.
Yes, I’m being judgemental. Yes, there are a lot of cultures out there with practices that appear unusual to others and yes we should respect and accept them but when it comes to a humongous pineapple dress with actual leaves attached to it, I draw the line.
I wait with baited breath for the gypsy folk of my childhood dreams to stroll down my road, shaking their heads of ginger curls and banging tinny tambourines. Until then, I shall have to abide by the age-old lyrics my grandmother used to sing wryly: My mother said, I never should, play with the gypsies in the wood.