I have friends who leap, screeching with joy, whenever the opportunity to don fancy dress presents itself.
They are willing to go the full overblown hog at a moment’s notice – weird and wonderful colours and shapes and headgear and make-up are suddenly magicked up from some secret stash. Feathers, tails, horns, wings, savage wounds, robo-limbs, coloured contacts… all seem to be instantly on tap, just in case.
Me, I’ve never really had the guts. Or perhaps the imagination. Or maybe I’m just lazy or overly Scottish or something.
Whichever, when such an evening is proposed, based as it always is on some abstract, ludicrous theme, I feel the creative part of my mind shut down. How the hell do you dress as “freedom” or “DNA” or, I don’t know, “the VAR rule”? What’s wrong with jeans and a carry-out and a t-shirt that was washed at some point within the past month? “Evening, folks. I’ve come as ‘defeated by life’”.
Until this new year I had only allowed myself to be pressed into fancy dress once, many years ago. To be fair the party was at my flat, so it would have been especially grinch-like even by my standards to ignore the rules. The look was superheroes. I hummed and hawed for weeks and then on the morning of the party went to a shop in Glasgow and rented the last available Batman outfit.
This wasn’t the kind of sleek, muscled container that adheres to the toned bodies of Christian Bale and the like – they were all long gone. All that was left was a shabby, spongy, loose-fitting thing, the kind of onesie you’d buy for a baby, with added fag burns. I was a cute, teddy-bear Batman, and none the worse for it. The only problem was that the outfit zipped up the back. As the night wore on and galactic quantities of drink were taken, my toilet trips increased in frequency and I spent more time asking people to unzip me. It wasn’t deliberate – whatever my then girlfriend, now wife, said later – that cute batman seemed to favour attractive women to help him achieve the necessary state of deshabille.
Anyway, I’ve resisted ever since, and decades have passed. When friends threw a big bash a year ago – theme: “Utopia/Dystopia”. Eh? – I put on a suit, a look of sullen resistance, and headed along. I was having quite a good time gawking at the various weirdos (one guy, puzzlingly, came as a banana. Even more puzzling, and much to his outrage, so did another guy) until I noticed the hostess glaring at me with unmistakable contempt. She’s a nice lady and I’d failed her. I vowed to do better next time.
And so, this new year, came the opportunity. The same friends were hosting, and for once the theme was straightforward: steampunk. This I could do. I’d read the books, watched the films. It’s basically just waistcoats, goggles and a couple of random cogs, right?
As the date of the party approached, friends were swapping texts and photos about the various pieces of gear they’d ordered from around the globe, the intricate pieces of equipment they’d accessed, the exquisite attention to detail they were paying. Some had even gone to the vast warehouse of the RoyaI Opera and rented costumes. I hadn’t ventured much beyond a preliminary scan of Amazon.
Inevitably and predictably, time ran out. With a few days to go, and no hope of any postal delivery getting through, I threw myself on my wife’s mercy. “You’ve actually got plenty of suitable stuff already,” she told me. “You’re quite odd as it is.”
She was right. I had garish tartan sta-press trousers and clumpy old engineer boots and a velvety tuxedo jacket that would all do the job. She had bought a steampunk hat that was too big – I was having that, once I’d ripped off the gauzy lady-bits. I bought a cheap waistcoat and borrowed a designer silk neckscarf from my mum. I sprayed my hair pink, and my daughters entertained themselves painting on eyeliner – ow! and yuck! You do this every day, girls? – and highlighter and the like.
In the end I don’t think I looked very steampunk – more like a grown-up Artful Dodger with Hasidic leanings and a Sex Pistols fixation. But I was undeniably in fancy dress. I wasn’t letting anyone down.
And you know what? I loved it. I was properly part of the evening. No one glared at me. The hosts had made up their house to resemble a scene from HG Wells’s Time Machine. A well-known novelist was there, dressed as what I can only describe as Little Blue Peep on a hoverboard. The banana guy was there, looking like a bodysnatcher. Another bloke had an amazing clarinet gun (half shotgun, half clarinet). A former rugby international seemed to have come as Sinbad – each to their own. It was a brilliant, brilliant night.
Now I find within me an unmistakable urge to do it all again, as soon as possible. Send me your address, tell me your theme, and I’ll be there, fully made-up, with dayglo hair and enough gold lame to daunt the doughtiest drag artist. Truly, a monster has been unleashed.
Chris Deerin is a leading journalist and commentator who heads independent, non-party think tank Reform Scotland