A Look At Life: Fancy Dress

15th March 2013

Party hosts get a dressing down…

Heather Harris

A large M&S Bag for Life (of which I own enough to last me way beyond the grave) seemed an ideal wardrobe choice, while my husband opted for PE skirt and pigtails…

We were off to a Fancy Dress Party with 'Your Favourite Saint' as the theme, and Saints Michael and Trinian seemed an inspired couple. Until we knocked on the door and realised that all our friends and family clearly worshipped the same unlikely duo.

"It was all we could think of…" explained a green-bagged guest as she passed a sausage roll to her hairy legged, lacrosse-stick-wielding husband.

And that's the trouble with Fancy Dress. When first conceived by the host and hostess it seems hilarious: it’s a guaranteed ice breaker and solves the age-old dilemma of what to wear.

Except it’s not and it doesn't. Invitations stating anything more adventurous than 'smart casual' or 'black tie' instantly make most guests want to decline. And why people think that talking to someone dressed as Pussy Galore is easier than conversing with the same lady in a John Lewis party frock is bizarre.

As for deciding on the outfit… The two Saints took us more research than my son's entire RE dissertation. Meanwhile, a recent 'Come As You Are Party' involved at least 12 indecisive outfit changes from nightie to Catwoman (it was the only one left in the hire shop). I finally plumped for gym kit, only to be greeted by a room full of women in glamorous little black numbers. ‘Well, this is what we always wear around the house…" came the unlikely and conspiratorial cry.

Fancy Dress is funny for children, not for adults. The age when an individual no longer has a dressing up box (suitable for family viewing) in their bedroom is the age when the contents should no longer be worn in public.

There's a reason why department stores only stock Batman outfits plus detachable Robin and Obi One Kenobi with realistic hair up to age 11/12 years. Any older and the embarrassment far outweighs the fun, especially if tights are involved.

So why is it that Fancy Dress Hire Shops are continuing to put a smile on the face of our high streets, while more serious retailers are disappearing faster than the average superhero?

The fact is that, like childbirth, there's a conspiracy of silence around the F (and the D) word. As Brits we’re historically and genetically supposed to laugh at ourselves. It's no coincidence that London hosts the only Marathon in the world where participants are actively encouraged to run dressed as a Rhino, Phone Box, Scooby Doo or a Pepperoni to name but a sweat-inducing few.

Imagine the French taking to the streets of Paris for 26 miles and 385 yards in anything less chic than a small pair of Lycra shorts, or the Germans crossing the line in the Berlin Marathon in anything less practical than the most aerodynamic kit. It's incredible that Seb didn't introduce a dressing-up element into the London Olympics – a suit of armour might have slowed Usain down a bit and given the Brits the edge…
…because as a nation Fancy Dress is something we excel at. Naturally we have to embrace it or we find ourselves accused of lacking a sense of humour: the ultimate insult. By default, to throw a Fancy Dress Party is assumed to be a public declaration of incredible wit.

Secretly, we all know that both are a lie but few of us will risk the social suicide that comes with an admission that the best invitations are actually those that allow us dress in our own favourite party clothes (the ones we chose with style and grace in mind) not as our favourite TV character.

This Easter we want to eat hot cross bun[nie]s, not dress up as them – and the only chicken we want to see is in the oven not the mirror.

So… a message for all those hosts and hostesses out there who are tempted to write Fancy Dress on their Easter Egg Hunt invitations just stop and think.

Imagine it landing on your own mat. By all means convey a sense of humour with some witty word play on an Easter theme (Eggxcellent, say, or Eggstravaganza)… but just don't make us all dress up as one or the yoke really will be on you.

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