What kind of person throws a costume party then doesn’t dress up? Only a sociopath right? Right!? Please tell me I’m not the crazy one here, the butt of a joke I don’t understand. I went to two ostensible costume parties this month. And aside from most of the guests at both being educated and employed white millennials, these were VERY different parties. At both, I was one of the only people in costume, a veritable Elle Woods outlier.
One was at a lavish home in Bethesda, attended mostly by recent Penn grads who worked in finance and media; the other was at a rented rowhouse in Trinidad, attended mostly by non-profit office workers who went to state schools. The houses on either side of the Trinidad location were unoccupied, one boarded up; the houses on either side of the Bethesda location were, as I was told by a sycophantic guest, owned by a Southeast Asian nation and the daughter of a professional sports team owner, respectively. The host of the Trinidad party had to unlock a metal security grate for each arriving guest; the host of the Bethesda party had a designated friend shuttle guests to and from the Friendship Heights Metro in their Lexus. You get the idea.
The one in Bethesda was a birthday party. The birthday girl told people in the email that it was a “Mad Hatter” theme. When I emailed her to ask what exactly that meant, she said “just dress all crazy and fun!!” OK. Fine. Costumes kind of stress me out, but not as much as going to a costume party without a costume—that would be an unforgivable faux pas. So I wore these floral pants I never wear with Nike hightops I haven’t worn since college. And then I put on a man’s dress shirt and wore a man’s tie, but tied it so it was super short and so the tail hung all the way past my waist. Then I tucked it into my pants and had it hang out the fly. Crazy and fun!!
I knew things had gone terribly wrong when the people picking me up at the Friendship Heights stop were wearing heels and pearls. And here I was worried about not wearing a hat! My face must have been ruby red when we got to the house and all the other girls, including the host, were wearing cocktail dresses, LK Bennetts and the like. The dudes wore mostly suits or polos. Fucking Penn kids. The birthday girl came up to me and exclaimed: “I’m so glad you dressed up!” I wanted to strangle her with her Van Cleef Alahambra necklace and shove her lifeless birthday body down the stairs, but instead I said thanks and made a beeline to the Veuve Clicquot. There was one dude who had a top hat, and that was it for costumes. The difference? He was a hit, I was that girl who nobody knew who was dressed like a freak. I spent the rest of that night making small talk with the hors d’oeuvres and pretending to pee a lot. I would have left, but I was at the mercy of the Metro shuttle bitches. I would have called a cab, but I was in Maryland. The only highlight was when I asked one guy where he went to school and he replied: “I went to Penn…it’s in the Ivy League.” Yeah thanks guy! Fucking Penn kids.
So, when I got this other costume party invite, I was rightly wary. It was an Earth Day theme and we were supposed to dress in “a sustainable costume.” I pointedly asked the host if people were going to dress up and she said “of course.” Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, and I’m stuck wearing a necklace made of ivy I ripped off my house’s car port.
I made the trek to Trinidad, was ushered through the security door, and found a living room full of normally dressed yuppies. Are you kidding me? Again? The host was wearing a sweater—and not even a fun sweater! Just a contemporary, unobtrusive green cableknit. When I asked her about costumes she pointed to a Gore-Liebermann 2000 button on her chest, her nod to the theme. I’m pretty sure the Gore-Liebermann ticket didn’t make environmental issues a central plank of their platform, but regardless, that was such a fucking cop out. A button? Fuck you, girl.
Thankfully something bizarre happened to salvage this one for me. Long after I had thrown my ivy necklace into the garbage, a guy showed up wearing a red beanie and a light blue collared shirt like Steve Zissou in The Life Aquatic. He said he was dressed as Jacques Cousteau. OK. At least he dressed up! Someone! I don’t really get how Jacques Cousteau fits that well into a sustainability theme beyond his working with the earth generally, but OK. Fine. Some effort was made. Bravo. Then some girl showed up in costume. THE SAME EXACT COSTUME. Red beanie, blue shirt, Jacques Cousteau. The two did not know one another. Everyone was delighted by the coincidence, but I couldn’t believe it. The only two other people who dressed up wore matching costumes that only vaguely fit the theme. Perplexed and pissed, I got the hell out of there and met a friend at a bar.
“I threw a birthday party in DC,” she said, drunk to the point of over-enunciating, not to the point of slurring. “The theme was funny hats. That’s it.”
“How many people wore hats?”
“A couple girls showed up in headbands. Blair Waldorf was really in that year.”
“Why do people in DC throw theme parties if no one ever follows through?” I asked.
“Oh Brio,” she said. “You think that’s just DC? That’s everywhere! Sure, maybe other cities are better at dress-up and pretend. But our world is full of people making promises they don’t bother to keep. It’s not even a byproduct of technology and smartphones or whatever. It’s just people. It’s just people, Brio.”
“Do you think people think Jacques Cousteau is an appropriate costume for a sustainability party?”
“I’ll be honest Brio, I have no idea who that is.”