A Grown-Up Guide to Playing Dress-Up


Tracee Ellis Ross’s Facebook page, you know that she’s been directly interacting with her fans much more these days, offering personal photos, both close-up and full-length, discussing her TV viewing preferences, and dishing on favored vintage and designer items in her wardrobe. You may’ve also noticed how sophisticated some of her Instagram pics are and wondered if she has a professional photographer on retainer, just to cover the events of her daily life.

As it turns out, Ross is just a fan of self-portraiture–and she happens to be really good at it. But why would someone who grew up under the glare of fame and lives near-constantly in the public eye now even want to spend her personal time dressing up and photographing herself? Well, there’s a difference between a big, business-related photo shoot, where orders are being barked and wardrobe is assigned, and the kind of silly, sultry, empowering pics you take in the privacy of your home.

The latter is something I know a little bit about. I started taking self-portraits in grad school, as an extension of an intense, belated self-discovery phase. As an introvert, I wanted a private and carefree space within which to explore the sides of my personality I’m reluctant to express in public. It’s surprising how commanding you feel when you direct yourself into character–huntress, mogul, sexpot, urban fairy–and position your body at odd angles, under various tints of light. You’re almost entranced and when you emerge from the moment and look at the photographs it yielded, you barely recognize your resplendent, uninhibited, unapologetically fierce self.

As an experience, I highly recommend it. And, apparently, so does Tracee Ellis Ross. Of her own interest in “playing dress-up,” she has this to say:

“I keep posting these fun pics I take of myself and you all say the loveliest things and you keep liking them. THANK YOUUUUUUUU!!!! I have always loved taking pictures. I love playing dress up and I love any kind of “pretty playtime”. Now with all this technology you can do such fun things to your own pictures you almost don’t need some fancy photoshoot to make great pictures. Anyway, playing dress up, playing with hair and MU, being silly being sexy and sometimes creating characters from my dress up has always been a form of creative expression for me. I was a stylist when I first got out of college and worked in the magazine world @ Mirabella magazine and in the fashion Department of NY Magazine. And I have been dressing up and taking pictures side I came out of my mom’s belly. Images, style, clothing —-I love aesthetics but from a deep place of self expression not necessarily from a place of FASHION. Anyway, I am glad you seem to be enjoying what I enjoy. I see some of your nice pics on Instgram and Twitter…FUN!!!!”

In short: yes. Grown folks play dress-up, too. Some of us get more into it than others. At the height of my interest in the hobby, I’d even hit up Forever 21 or Charlotte Russe and buy one of those insanely cheap dresses I wouldn’t have the nerve to wear in public, just for self-portraiture purposes. I’d dress it up or down, coyly lift the skirt or tug at the bodice, or trouble a strand of faux pearls. Someday, I hope to have a home with an extra room entirely devoted to the practice (If you’re a Community watcher, think Troy and Abed’s Dreamatorium.), where I’d build and break-down photo sets and turn myself into Dorothy Dandridge, Donyale Luna, or Pam Grier in the space of an afternoon.

(Continue reading at Clutch…)