Oliver Cross: Today’s fancy-dress parties have no costume dramas

The world of fancy dress has become a lot less challenging.
The world of fancy dress has become a lot less challenging.
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Last weekend, I went to a fancy dress party for the first time since I was about seven.

I don’t like wearing fancy dress because I don’t like drawing attention to myself but, by a cruel irony, the only way to draw attention to yourself at a fancy dress party is to not wear fancy dress, which puts you on the horns of a paradox, or something equally painful.

Anyway, I couldn’t really get out of this party because it was a 60th birthday do for a girl (I still can’t think of her as a mature woman) I first met when she was a teenager and I thought I was a grown-up, even though I was only about 20. The idea of being 60 would have been unimaginable to either of us because we couldn’t have known that the legacy of free school milk and active childhoods would leave us able to bop into the night and keep the early-morning conversations going until after 4am, which is when we started to separate the Duracell-powered sheep from the fading goats. I turned out to be a goat, but only just.

This was an inter-generational party, including children (from an over-60s’ perspective) well into middle age, parents in their 80s and exhaustingly lively grandchildren, and it was the younger-older generation – a new social category I’ve just invented – who lasted best, not having to save their energies for coping with the grandchild-generation in the morning.

Mind you, the grandchild-generation need watching. I generally make annual visits to the family of the 60-year-old party girl, who lives in North Wales, which I don’t pass through often, and see the youngsters as through a time-lapse camera, so that they seem to turn, in hardly any time at all, from drooling infants, to students and then to senior accountants.

But back to the party. The fancy-dress culture has come on no end since one of our children was sent to a primary school party clutching a few twigs and wearing a home-made dunce’s cap while carrying a sign announcing that he was a dense forest. Nowadays, because of the internet, the Chinese plastics industry and the growth of shops encouraging students to spend their loans on silly costumes, fancy dress has become a lot less challenging.

I for example went to the party as a 1970s club singer (appropriately because it was held in a 1970s-style club) in a pink frilled shirt, a plastic medallion and fake sideburns. The cost came to very little, and, after my partner kindly had a picture of the dressed-up me posted on Facebook, I was hailed as a brilliant fancy-dresser, even though I think the dense-forest costume required more ingenuity.

Others, though, did very well. The party instruction was to turn up in a costume from your favourite era and for most of the younger-older lot, this turned out to involve flower-child motifs, flared trousers, kaftans and speaking in a spaced-out ‘wow man’ sort of way, although nobody could keep it up for long, probably because they never were part of the sun-lit psychedelic Californian generation on account of being brought up in the north of England or rainy Wales.

At the after-party people attempted to hold serious, mature small-hours conversations while dressed as cavemen, pirates, highwaymen, Mary Quant or the victims of an explosion in a fancy-dress factory. I’d love to see the video.

DANCE WITH DESTINY: Tom Holdsworth and Hannah Bateman of Northern Ballet at a Leeds2023 promotional event last year. PIC: Steve Riding

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