In Praise of the Boa
by Jayne Sharratt

The most desirable fashion object you can have?


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The feather boa could be one of the most versatile cultural style icons of our time. It can symbolise what ever you want it to. Vamp, tramp, trash, camp, glamour, fun.

Clearly someone must have designed the first feather boa at some point, but I have no idea where or when or who. I like to think it’s origins are lost forever in the smoky, perfumed mists of fashion history, but it was made famous by flappers in the 1920's like Isadora Duncan. It is rarely at the cutting edge of fashion, the last word of sophistication and style. It is more about fun, irony, dressing up and the art of disguise. Those feathers may seem floaty, frivolous, insubstantial - but you can hide behind them.

What is it then? One suggestion is a kind of feather duster you can wear, but this is missing the point. The name comes from the boa snake. It is a long snake of feathers, soft and clinging. It can be draped through arms for elegance, or flung dramatically over the shoulder. It has loops sewn in at each end, invisible when worn, through which you can hook a finger if you need the security of knowing the boa will stay put (they have the incurable habit of slipping from the shoulders), or they could be used to hang it in the wardrobe by those of us who are so organised.

The feather boa shopping site, describes it's products in loving terms; all the boas are two yards long. Marabou and Chandelle boas are made from turkey feathers. The Ostrich feather comes from the Ostrich and the Schloppin boa is made from rooster tail feathers. Personally, forever PC and short of cash, I favour the fake synthetic Topshop versions in various unnatural colours, for around £8. I own two, one is black and the other lavender blue. The black one was a present to myself on my eighteenth birthday, thinking it would mark my ascent into the world of sophisticated clubbers.

I am yet to enter into any sort of elite, hedonistic lifestyle, unless you count student life, which if you had seen the piles of washing up and late night essay crises which curse the kitchens of this countries halls of residence you wouldn't, but I still have the boa, as proof that like the scout movement I am always prepared.

It is completely impractical. It doesn't keep you warm, it quite often scratches, it gets in the way when you’re trying to eat and gets trapped in the doors of taxi cabs. When you are wearing it you leave a trail of feathers for everyone to see exactly where you’ve been. Maybe that's the whole point. Simply, it is a well designed flirting accessory. You can wrap it around yourself, or around a man, or around yourself and a man. And men do like them. I have too many photographs to prove that if you give a man a boa and point a camera he will pose.

Off duty the boa can be allowed to fall in a heap of feathers on the floor, or be draped over wardrobe doors or mirrors. Either way it should never be constrained. I learnt this when I had my black boa posted to me. Opening the innocuous looking brown envelope I recoiled and cast it to the floor, really thinking for one moment that someone hated me enough to send me a dead crow in the post. Since then I have always favoured the more colourful variety of boa. What the boa is never about is minimalism. It is more about the little girl dressing up in front of the mirror in her mothers too-big high heels and badly applied lipstick; or it is the accessory of choice for clubbers in the best-dressed queues, along with glitter and false eyelashes. Or it is used to give a plain dress an extra something’ by anyone attending a ball and looking for a quick fix of glamour, something to make them stand out from the crowd.

Here we have the essential function of the boa, the thing it was designed to do. With a cloud of brightly coloured feathers about you, you will never fade into the background. In this way the boa fulfills it's purpose in life admirably.


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