I tried to see the fun in fancy dress parties – all I felt was pain and panic

Coco Khan
Photograph: Richard Young/Rex Features

Festival season is upon us, and with it comes music and passion and socially divisive fashion – well, at least among my mates. You see, they are costume people. All their parties are fancy dress. They enjoy spending time (and money) creating conceptual gladrags. They will attack a theme with aplomb.

To their credit, they are quite good. A friend recently went to a “naughty but nice” party dressed as a sexy bedside table. She even put a papier-mache lamp on top (it represented a “one-night stand”).

Me? I can’t bear the whole thing. I try to see the fun, but all I witness is pain: the humiliation of the commute dressed as an egg; the “wacky” photos that will stalk me indefinitely. If a party is about being carefree, then a costume does the opposite, locking me into my own personal prison.

Too many times I’ve found myself panicking in Costcutter about how to cobble an outfit together. Too many times I’ve resigned myself to face paint and a toy tool belt, painting a white line across my face, praying people would believe me when I said I was Adam Ant during his lesser-known builder phase. I’m sure the hosts wanted more. I wanted less. And so we accepted this limp compromise.

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The thing is, friendships in my 20s were demanding. I feared that by shirking the party, I’d jeopardise them. Earning the displeasure of my peers seemed like hell, as did staying home and missing potential bonding moments. I was convinced it would mean being left out in the cold.

I now know that any friendship so fragile that it can be destroyed by turning up in jeans can hardly be called a friendship. Those fleeting relationships are ones we’re better off without. Now when the costume party invitation arrives, I do what’s probably best for everyone: RSVP “not attending”.