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  • Writer's pictureBen Pechey

The Fancy Dress Conundrum

“Have you been at a fancy dress party?”

Quite the innocuous sentence you think? Without context, yes. If I’d been to a Barbie screening, yes. If I was in an Elle Woods/Bridget Jones bunny kind of situation, yes. 

However, imagine me shopping for BBQ basics in Sainsbury’s, clutching an £8 cake I didn’t need, wearing an Ice Cream jumpsuit I had been gifted that week, only to be accosted by this question at the checkout. Not the first time I have had that question, and probably not the last. Yet, I cannot get it out of my head. Every time I get dressed, it pops into my head. 

The connotations of fancy dress are fantasy, character or historic based, and usually cheap. No one calls the Met Gala fancy dress, because it's poles apart. So when the way I dress is likened to fancy dress, I can only perceive it as a negative. 

Dressing in 2023 is anything but simple. What we choose to put on our backs can say so much, whether we intend it or not. The way I dress catches more than a few glances, wherever I go, good and bad. I can be in Soho, Hull, or Oxford - someone will stop me to say something. Until the fancy dress incident, that day I had three or four people stop me to compliment me. So I am no stranger to unsolicited compliments. 

This should, for anyone, provide confidence, a warmth, to feel good about yourself. Normally I do, because I only dress for myself. Happy in the way I look, for me, and only me. Yes, I dress for events, the stage, or public appearances - to grab and catch attention. This is context, and intent - not the way I dress on a daily basis. 

“Have you been at a fancy dress party?” 

It sends a chill down my spine. It has led to a period of second-guessing myself. Self-censoring. Anxiety. Fear. It has led me to really not want to go outside much. I have been getting dressed with such caution. 

I texted my partner; 

Feeling very insecure. 

The attention I get - feels like my fault. 

I could dress more grownup - get less attention.

They replied;

I'll support you either way but don't hamper your happiness to cater to others who won't be happy either way. 

This part - don't hamper your happiness to cater to others who won't be happy either way - really stuck with me. 

It is true, whatever I wear, someone will have feelings about it. If no one will be happy, then I need to make sure that I ensure the one person I can make happy is happy - myself. Life has taken so much from me. I won’t let it take my joy in dressing. 

So fuck it. Fancy dress questions or not. I will continue to dress for myself, and myself only. If you don’t like it, tell someone else, because I’m not listening. I urge you to do the same - always dress for yourself!


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