In Favor of Eclecticism; or, an Ode to the Closets of the GTOs
Once upon a time━if we so choose to believe life’s a fairytale━there lived a group of six or seven girls who painted stars across their faces and whole worlds in their heads. They wore pirate blouses and feather boas and scraps of muslin, silk, and yarn. Girls Together Outrageously, as they were known, twirled through Los Angeles like the sun, pulling bits and pieces of the city into their orbit until they conquered its entirety.
The details are hazy, as details from a half-century past are wont to be, but the story, to the best of my knowledge, goes as follows: Misses Pamela, Mercy, Sparky, Cynderella, Christine, Sandra, and (later) Lucy all found themselves in Los Angeles at the end of the ‘60s. They became fast friends (“because of the way we dressed,” Cynderella has explained) and then quickly an avant-garde girl-group under the guidance of Frank Zappa, experimental extraordinaire. They put out just one album, Permanent Damage, which featured songs such as “The Eureka Springs Garbage Lady,” “Wouldn’t It Be Sad if There Were No Cones,” and, my personal favorite, “I Have a Paintbrush in my Hand to Color a Triangle (Mercy’s Tune).” The songs are otherworldly, blending spoken-word poetry, vaudevillian instrumentals, and the haunting wails of women transcended; they serve as reflections of young girls who are very much of their time, and very much in love with their world.
As spunky as the album is and their handful of live performances were said to be, the GTOs’ greatest gift is in what they wore. One press photo shows them draped over an old couch by the freeway, posing like ragdolls and Shakespearean actors. Kohl rings Miss Mercy’s eyes like portals to another dimension as she thrusts one fist into the air, one into Miss Christine’s frizzy hair, putting her bohemian getup on full display. Christine, for her part, is suited up in striped tights, buckled shoes, and a quilted dress that she more than likely sewed herself. The group stares into the camera, defiant and bewitching, exactly sure of who they are and not caring who you think they might be.
In an interview with Vogue, Miss Pamela explains that she used to spend hours getting dressed
and decorating her face; “it was fun, it was glamorous, it was exciting,” she recounts of her time with the GTOs. “I was emulating people I adored, and I was trying to create a one-of-a-kind look at the same time.” The girls got their clothing from a smattering of peculiar places, such as the Glass Farmhouse, a long-gone thrift store on Sunset Boulevard where they took artists like Led Zeppelin and Alice Cooper. They cut vintage gowns into minis, layered head scarves and hats, and clashed colors and patterns as frequently as they got dressed. They were the performance of everyday life, for to live was to celebrate, and to celebrate was to live.
Today, different is synonymous with cool. But in order to be deemed cool, there are rules to follow and guidelines to squish inside━try, but appear not to, lest you be seen as a fake; wear clothing just outside of the mainstream, but close enough to not look a fool; copy those who are the coolest, and make sure to not deviate from their carefully-curated style (we wouldn’t want people to look different than the standard different category, supposed acceptable by the general population).
As such, the GTOs were both ahead of their time and defining of it. In contemporary culture, they would either be written off as artificial try-hards, or praised by the elite and thrown into the highest echelons of heedless consumerism, made into archetypes of how the everyday woman should dress. They were neither. They existed in a corner of the universe that is dead and gone, one that allowed eclecticism without commodifying it. Permanent Damage is a relic of a world gone by, and its creators still stand as visionaries that will not and cannot be duplicated in our current era of self-branding and monetization. There were no ulterior motives to dressing as one pleased; one did it because one felt it, and that was that.
Girls Together Outrageously were in close proximity with the most prominent creatives of their time, which granted them the label of a “group of groupies,” but they were a cosmic force all their own. They were a seven-woman circus, slinking and elegant, loud yet mysterious, tearing through the City of Angels like celestial beings themselves. There is something to be said for autology.
In the Misses we trust: Girls Together in Perpetuity.