Is there anything worse than a dress code? Well, many things, but for the purpose of today’s missive, no, there is nothing quite so irksome.
Last Thursday was Mash Media’s Christmas party. It was to be a gay affair, with prospective excitement gradually building up in the office, almost audible so it was (or was that Noddy Holder?).
The e-invite had gone out some weeks before and it stated quite clearly that, on top of the ‘Winter Wonderland’ theme (which is just a fancy way of saying ‘the room has a Christmas tree and some tinsel in it), there was indeed a dress code and that it was ‘smart casual’.
A dress code will only ever exist to create an illusion of sophistication about your party, and ‘smart casual’ is just a fancy terminology used to undermine that.
To compound matters further, there is a delightful vagueness about what ‘smart casual’ actually means. In the invite the sub-text said that we must not wear ripped jeans, but that smart jeans would be acceptable. Good, I thought, I wear smart jeans every day and I have no inclination to go dressed as a decorator.
To comply I hatched a cunning plan: I would wear to the party whatever I was wearing to work that day. This had many benefits, chief among which was the fact that I always wear the same sort of thing, and that it neatly falls into the wide ‘smart casual’ spectrum already.
I would wear my smart jeans – which are about the only trousers I wear anyway – with my £14 Primark faux-brogues topped off with my secret weapon: my jumper. I like my jumper very much. It’s black, which means it’s cool, and it has a pretend shirt collar sewn into the neck. It therefore looks like I’m wearing a shirt. It is, hands down, the greatest and most versatile item of clothing a man could ever hope to own.
However, things were soon to take a rather unexpected twist. I noticed that some people in the Mash office were ‘going to get changed’ and reappearing far smarter and far more well-groomed than usual. No matter, I thought, they’ll be overdressed.
At the venue I removed my coat and entered the ballroom to find myself surrounded by hundreds of men in full black tie and women in the kind of dresses you see being sported at red carpet events in London’s West End. I should add that this was a mixed Christmas party for 250 or so people, only 45 or so from Mash.
It was a smorgasbord of dickie bows and sequined gowns.
The penny dropped and the situation was resoundingly clear: everyone had got it wrong and was embarrassingly overdressed.
However, rightly or wrongly and by a fact of mathematics, I was in a minority in the dress stakes. It would have been less conspicuous if I’d walked in wearing nothing but a loin cloth.
I loathe suits. I really do. In my mind suits are only suitable at funerals. Even on my wedding day I tried to negotiate with my wife that I would wear jeans and a t-shirt (I failed on that one).
A suit is nothing more than a conjuring trick. They make it harder to judge people and, at something like a Christmas party, judging people is important. The only thing worse than a suit is small talk with a dullard, and if you can’t make an accurate assumption about someone before you know it you’re locked into a conversation with a man who wants to talk about his central heating. A disaster.
It’s anti-social. By wearing a suit you are hiding your true self. I, on the other hand, was wearing an outfit that offered an acceptable insight into who I am. The Primark brogues suggest I am a modest earner, the jeans show that I am happy to spill coffee on them, and the jumper with the pretend shirt collar shows that I am practical and find compromising solutions.
Do you wear a suit to the pub with your friends on a Friday night? Do you wear it when you take your kids to the park, or to the supermarket? No, of course you don’t, so why wear one in a room full of strangers?
And, so we’re clear, suits are like wine. There are only 14 people in the entire country who can tell the difference between a cheap one and an expensive one.
The concept of the suit (and equivalent ball gown) is completely undermined at a Christmas party which, in the main, is attended by normal people who make up the bulk of the UK’s population. By asking normal people to dress up as if they were banqueting with The Queen, the whole charade is ruined. By midnight more and more puddles of vomit begin to appear and various courting couples take their woo pitching to somewhat more curious levels.
The mask of sophistication is lost in the ether as everyone realises that the more of the suit they remove, the more fun they have.
I, on the other hand, walked into the room with my cards laid bare on the table. People could clearly see I had made no effort and, therefore, didn’t come and talk to me.
I don’t care for small talk much either, so that suited me fine. It allowed me to concentrate fully on my dance moves and ensuring that I had the right number of jaeger bombs on the tray.
So there we are, then. Mash was right to issue a ‘smart casual’ dress code, but I seemed to be only one of a handful that paid attention.