Fashion or Fiction 1: The School Bag Secret

Fashion or Fiction 1: The School Bag Secret
by Kelby Guilfoyle - January 2023

School was easy. Like I was good at math and when other people needed to count their fingers, I had already summed up the total in my head. There were 30 of us separated in rows of six. And when the teacher said ‘now, who has the answer for me’ we all used to put up our hands, even if we didn’t know.

But I had a secret. Hidden deep at the bottom of my schoolbag. An item of clothing, that meant a lot. But I wasn’t ready for anyone to know just yet.

Fashion of course wasn’t a subject at school, and the teacher wore the same cardigan and blouse most days. And we all wore a school uniform. Some of us in dresses, some of us in pants. But more or less, all dressed the same. I am sure at least half of us wore the same black shoes from the cheap shoe shop in the center of town. The shiny fake leather that looked like the sun shining on a plastic water bottle. It was a mystery, my love for clothes. Like, I couldn’t have got it from school. And at home was no different, my parents dressed like cartoons. I swear they had a wardrobe full of the same top and pants.

I looked around the classroom. I couldn’t take it, being the same as everyone else. I needed to express my own style. But obviously, I didn’t want to get sent to the principal’s office. That’s every kid’s nightmare. I thought hard, until it hit me.

I could pull my tie slightly out of its perfect shape, and let it loosely hang. Oh, what farce. Nobody would ever notice. I was jelly-bellied with excitement. I pulled it loose slowly, so nobody would see. And then, when it was greatly droopy, I smiled wide and kicked my feet under the table. Of course, I was a genius. And the day went by just the same as any other.

But what fool stops there. I had to keep going. So I thought, why don’t I try something else. Really stick it to the man. Now a shoe is a beautiful thing, but everyone under states the importance of a fashionable shoelace.

I went home and pulled out the laces on my shiny shoes. And after a quick overturn of my mum’s closet, and falling for a cute white stringy lace on some old runners she had, I knew they’d have to be the ones. A risky move this, putting white laces on black shoes. But I was a trailblazer. That’s really what fashion is all about. Being bold.

And look, I should have been happy to stop at that, admit that altering the uniform any more would be too far. And the chances of getting in trouble would be almost inevitable. But there was one last touch, a sneaky one. That I knew would propel my style to new heights.

I ripped the buttons off my school shirt. They were marbly and plastic and ugly. And my dad had an army coat with golden buttons, which I should not have even dared take. But the glare and the dazzle. How could I not? I stitched them on. I must admit this took some trial and error. Being a kid, and knowing how to sow weren’t exactly perfectly matched things. But nothing a bit of solid hard work couldn’t fix. I was a quick learner. And before long, I was stood like a general in the shimmer of the mirror.

I sat in the middle of the class. Tie hanging loose, white laces nicely knotted and golden buttons sizzling in the overheads. To be honest, I looked amazing. I wouldn’t usually be bold enough to say that. But in this instance, I was it.

But something was wrong. I was feeling really proud and happy of expressing myself. I was using fashion as a way to show the classroom who I was. But that was the problem. I was hiding it from them. It was there, for them to see. But I had tried so hard to not get in trouble, and now I was feeling more lonely and lost

than ever. I wanted someone to say ‘hey, nice buttons’ or kick my shiny shoes and say ‘I didn’t know you could get those with white laces’. But none of that happened. Nobody even looked at me. Not one thing had changed.

And that brings me to my secret. Hidden at the bottom of my bag. It had been there now since the start of term. My heart was racing. I knew it would complete the look. I wanted so bad to wear it. But I was afraid.

It was different. It would say a lot. And even though it scared me, I knew that it was what I had to do.

So when the lunch bell rang I reached down. I ruffled around my bag until it sunk to the bottom. I waved around until I could feel it. The point and clasp. The raised side and the straight side. I made a fist. And I took it out. I was sweating.

I opened my hand. And when I looked at it. It really wasn’t very scary anymore. Actually, if anything I was excited. To finally embrace who I was. The final piece of my outfit.

It was a pink clip. I fastened it into my short hair and only then did I notice that everyone was watching me. I went apple red. And one of the kids started coming towards me. He pointed and he said ‘that’s really cool, where’d you get it’ and I smiled.

I had been seen, for the very first time.

Kelby Guilfoyle drinks too much tea. They are an award winning theatre maker and writer. They most recently were awarded the Creative Empowerment Award from Community Foundation for Ireland and Cork Arts Theatre, for their gender queer fairytale Bláthanna. Their theatre work has been performed all over the UK and Ireland, most notably at Electric Picnic. They are a LAMBDA most anticipated LGBTQ+ author and lover of ice cream in the rain.