Is there anything more annoying than an invitation to a fancy dress party? All of the anticipation of a night out is lost with the words, “Dress up as your favourite …” Suddenly, the invitation is conditional on your willingness to find a costume that suits a theme, however bizarre or obscure. Does anyone even have a favourite movie character?
Happily, the stress of finding the costume and catching a tram wearing a black lycra bodysuit and blonde perm (a la Sandy) is forgotten when I arrive at the party and realise there is nothing more fun than a fancy dress party. Now, it doesn’t matter if you look ridiculous – in fact, the unspoken rule of a fancy dress party is the sillier, the better. God forbid you’re the person who has half-heartedly worn a stick-on moustache to a 70s-themed disco.
The simple joy of dressing up is something that it is easy for parents to forget this time of year, as Book Week approaches. Just like the dreaded fancy dress party invitation, a newsletter arrives that reminds parents of the Book Parade, unleashing a furious dash to the costume tub for any item that might possibly appear in a book. A princess dress? Perfect – there’s barely a book my daughter owns that doesn’t have a princess in it. A police hat? I’m (fairly) sure there was a policeman in Noddy. A footy jumper? Didn’t some AFL player write a book about football?
At the school gate, we complain about, firstly, having to think up a costume for their uncooperative and apathetic child and, secondly, remembering to dress them in it on the correct day (which any parent who has sent their child to school in uniform on a casual clothes day will realise is a big ask).
But I had a rude awakening last year, when, after moaning about the effort involved in arranging a costume for the school Book Week parade, it was cancelled. While many of us initially let out a sigh of relief at the news that we didn’t have this extra job on top of our usual, hectic workload, in hindsight, it was a loss; an instance of the busyness of everyday life taking away one potential sources of the happiness for which we are all, constantly, striving. By reasoning that helping a child prepare for Book Week was just another inconvenience, the opportunity for injecting a little creativity, connection and fun had passed us by.
The children didn’t just miss out on a celebration of books to help bring alive the joy and wonder of reading, but also the thrill of walking into a room of little people dressed up, however haphazardly, as book characters.
On the day, there is no way that kids care about the quality or relevance of the costume, or about whether the character is really from a book. They won’t mind if there are eight Harry Potters and 12 Cinderellas in the class. They will be in their own wonderland of dodgy beards, stained tulle, lopsided tiaras and oversized hats.
One of the few days of my primary schooling that I can remember vividly was the one when I dressed up as little Miss Muffet, complete with a toy spider, for Book Week. (Even back then the bookish criteria must have been loose.) My mum still has the photo of my brother and I standing outside our house, thrilled to be wearing costumes instead of our usual uniforms.
Just like at an adult’s party, where a fancy dress theme brings hilarity, joy and novelty, it is well worth the extra work to bring a bit of magic into children’s school days. Let the kids whack on a football jersey, tiara or cape, and enjoy the rare and precious chance to pretend to be someone else for the day.
So, this year I won’t complain when Book Week comes around because I might lose more than I had realised – a celebration of books and the simple but memorable joy of dressing up.