Like her music—which blends the best elements of alt-pop, surf rock, and ‘60s girl group harmonies—Gemma Ray’s onstage style is all her own. “I usually bring about six dresses for shows and wear them each night like a uniform,” says the British-born, Berlin-based musician, who has just embarked on a two-week tour across the US in support of her upcoming sophomore album Island Fire. Yes, that even includes flight attendant-inspired ensembles. See her when she brings her retro-inspired songs—and gravity-defying bouffant—to your city, or get a sneak peek of what she’s packed for the trip here.
Outfit breakdown: I got my dress from an antique shop in Cape Town, South Africa. It was originally more of a gown—really baggy—but my mum is a great tailor and redesigned it to fit me. The boots I got from a vintage shop called Pop Boutique in Covent Garden, London. I wanted some Nancy Sinatra-style boots and always try to buy secondhand leather if I can. The heels are as high as I can handle onstage—playing guitar and pressing the foot pedals in heels takes practice. I need to do a “shoecheck” as well as a soundcheck to make sure I can operate my equipment without losing my balance! The white tights are American Apparel, and I’m also wearing a chunky, asymmetric, clear green ‘60s ring, which you can’t see—I like keeping jewelry minimal, bold, and a bit ugly.
I brought this outfit on tour because: This dress is my current favorite for live shows, as it seems to suit the vibe of my new album and even the title itself, Island Fire. I wrote and recorded it on my travels in various islands—South Africa, Giske, Australia etc.—and the print reflects this adventurous mood I think. You can’t place where it’s from, nor what era, and that aesthetic suits all of the songs I play in my set. I get described as retro a lot, which isn’t really true; my music is very eclectic, so it’s very important for me to find the right dress which suits it and doesn’t pigeonhole me too much.
My personal style is: unique, comfortable, bright and bold. I love vivid color and strong silhouettes that feel more classic and timeless than pastiche vintage. I also like to buy things that already have a story and a past; I just don’t feel comfortable in new things (except underwear)—they feel soulless to me somehow, though I often like modern cuts on other people.
If this outfit were one of my songs, it would be: maybe “Trou De Loup,” as it’s a deep-sea slash Forbidden Island adventure story, and I feel a bit like a retro-futuristic tribal adventuress in this dress. I think the white tights give it a slightly retro-futuristic spacey feel, which is another element to the lyrics in this song.
I always pack: all my writing notepads and a nice, fine black pen so I [can] keep working on new projects. A sleep mask. Facial wipes. Lots of Tresemme extra-strong hold, dehumidifying hairspray (which the boys use, too). Oh, and MAC gel eyeliner—it never budges onstage!
You’d never catch me onstage wearing: something deliberately casual or androgynous—I think some female musicians look great sporting the ‘down-playing’ look onstage, but it’s just not me.
My pre-tour shopping spot is: a great vintage shop in Berlin, where I live, called Alex on Rosa-Luxemburg-Strasse. It’s really cheap and has great vintage dresses and cheap casuals. Oh, and if I’m Britain, lots of my favorite hairspray!
The best on-the-road purchase I ever made was: a red, white, and blue air hostess-style ‘60s dress I wear in my video for “Rescue Me.” It’s my most trusty stage uniform and the colors make me look patriotic to most countries I tour in! I found it in Beacon’s Closet in Williamsburg, [Brooklyn] for $8.