‘I unreservedly apologise’: What happens when costumes go very, very wrong

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Theres nothing worse than dressing the wrong way at a party. Particularly if its a Vogue party and you came as a pirate

Few social situations can be more fraught than a costume party. What if youre the only person who dresses up? What if youre the only one who doesnt? Misjudge a theme and your costume becomes a prison of your own making for the next three hours, or 90 minutes, or however long you can bear to stick it out.

No image better represents the stakes than that tweeted by LA-based screenwriter Katie Dippold: [Throwback to] Halloween when I dressed as the Babadook but my friends house had more of a grown-ups drinking wine vibe.

Her haunted middle-distance stare and the slight clench to her jaw betray her excruciating internal dialogue: Ive made a huge mistake.

Katie Dippold (@katiedippold)

Tbt to Halloween when I dressed as the babadook but my friend’s house had more of a grown ups drinking wine vibe pic.twitter.com/PoGKUFeLLw

June 30, 2016

Dippold unfortunately did not respond to requests for information about how that evening panned out. But others had similar stories about misjudging a costume or misinterpreting a theme which they seemed happy to get off their chests.

Benjamin Law: I was made to do blackface as a child

In 1988 it was Australias Bicentenary, Expo 88 was in town, and I was a Chinese-Australian kid in first year at a Lutheran primary school in Queenslands Sunshine Coast. My school was almost breathtakingly monocultural and white: I was one of three Asian kids in the entire year level, and there were no black students whatsoever.

This made it a problem when my teachers decided we were going to perform as Aboriginal people for the schools talent showcase. Every year level had a different act, and my grades involved slathering on jars of school-issued black body paint over our semi-naked forms and singing Carra Barra Winna Canna, a song we assumed was Indigenous, written by a man named Rolf Harris, who we assumed was Aboriginal.

We were wrong about Rolf Harris on this, and on so many other things.

As an adult who now knows better, I unreservedly apologise, especially to Indigenous Australians. And to anyone who asks me what are the dangers in not having cultural diversity in workplaces, schools and on media, all I need to do is show them the photo. Benjamin Law

James Hennessy: Everyone had dressed as me

Last year, I made the crucial error of changing my Twitter avatar to a photo of myself throwing a quasi-ironic shaka on a beach in California while wearing sunglasses and a breezy grey singlet.

After being mercilessly and deservedly ribbed for my blunder, I thought I was out of the woods. Lo and behold, my friends had decided to stage a Halloween party where everyone dressed as said photo grey singlet, sunglasses, shorts and tattoos included. It promptly went viral online, and Im still copping it a year later.

James
Photograph: Supplied

Theres absolutely a moral here: trust no one especially not your friends. James Hennessy

Osman Faruqi: I was the only person not dressed as James Hennessy

My biggest Halloween faux pas to date has been not dressing up as a mates Twitter avatar to a party where that was the theme. Instead, I dressed up as a Marxist cowboy.

Osman Faruqi (@oz_f)

The Socialist Sherrif: pic.twitter.com/ah3yqIV4BF

October 31, 2015

I actually struggled to track down the location of Hennoween, but circling the backstreets of Newtown I ran into a bloke wearing the full Henno outfit: blue shorts, grey singlet and bad tattoos. I figured he must have been en route to the same party as I was. So I asked him, Hey mate, you going to the Henno party? Where is it? Turns out he had no idea who Henno was; that was just his regular Saturday night attire.

My failure to dress up appropriately meant that the now infamous, viral Hennoween pic is whiter than the set of Sunrise. But the thing Im most bitter about? The pic I took was way better than the one that rocketed around the world. And it only got six likes. Spooky. Osman Faruqi

Olly Dixon: I went to a Vogue party dressed as a pirate

My partner was working at Brazilian Vogue as art director, and I was a freelance graphic designer. We had been living in Sao Paulo for a few months, and life was pretty good, but we were young and didnt have much money so I always felt a little like a fraud among the fashion/art scene people of Brazil. This was highlighted most spectacularly at a party Vogue hosted.

The invitations were of course in Portuguese, but we understood them to a point. The dress code said Black Tie or Fancy Dress. I didnt have a tuxedo so was reluctant to go, but my wife was keen to make a good impression and encouraged me to go for the fancy dress option. I figured it would be fun and to be honest we didnt give it that much thought we were from London, we went to loads of parties, we were used to this sort of thing.

I opted for a pirate outfit: cut-off jeans, flip flops, and a hook hand and sword I had purchased from a local toy store a few hours before the party. Eye liner, eye patch, bandana. My wife wore a beautiful vintage ball gown. Ready to go.

The party was held at Hotel Unique, a huge modernist luxury hotel and it was hosted by Naomi Campbell. Gilberto Gil was performing. We turned up on the red carpet, and not being celebrities we were of little interest to the paparazzi, but I did feel we had a certain presence and caught the eye. We entered.

Im not saying all 600 people turned and looked at me, but it did feel like that. The editor of Vogue rushed towards us. What are you doing ? Why are you dressed as a pirate? And why are you wearing flip flops to this party?

Im in fancy dress. On the invitation it said Black Tie or Fancy Dress

What? No, no, no. Black Tie or Dress Fancy wear your finest clothes, or expensive robes. Not Fancy Dress.

I pointed at guy dressed as a Sheikh. What about that guy, hes dressed up.

No, hes an actual Sheikh.

On closer inspection, his robes were made of fine golds and luxury materials. We exchanged a nod of mutual respect (thats how I saw it).

It actually worked out well; I brought a smile to faces, and got talking to lots of different people. We even met Naomi Campbell, who thought it was hilarious.

Lauren Hogan Ross: I pretended I genuinely misunderstood the invitation

A girl I knew in Year 12 threw a themed 18th birthday party: Britney Spears meets 1920s. Since I am a human in this world, I was sure this was the worst sexy kitten syndrome theme ever, so instead arrived in an elaborate homemade dinosaur costume which took days to plan and construct: an elegant combination of green felt, faux fur and cardboard, with large spines attached to suspender braces and a sewn-together green bonnet.

I pretended I genuinely misunderstood the invitation and was asked to leave. I then pretended I misunderstood the instruction and stayed.

I regret nothing. Lauren Hogan Ross

Rob Hinds: I just went full corpse paint

I was supposed to help a friend out for a photo shoot of heavy metal fans. I think she figured Id just show up wearing one of my Metallica T-shirts and a jacket, but I just went full corpse paint. The shoot lasted the entirety of ten minutes and my friends were having a casual get-together nearby. I showed up not explaining any of it. Rob Hinds

Pastor of Muppets (@couchesrob)

@stephharmon @albertinho @GuardianAus listen, I misjudged the vibe of this party but I don’t regret it pic.twitter.com/EqvPDTTlXU

October 26, 2016

Chris Woods: I went in purpleface. It looked much worse

On Halloween 2015, I dressed as the Bill Hader-voiced, purple lanky man/emotion Fear from Pixars wonderful Inside Out. This required, amongst other things, purple face paint. While I swear to you I bought the brightest shade that that accursed store had, the paint still looked darker than Id thought possible; it also didnt help that the party was very dimly lit.

So yes, I turned up, late to a party I was co-hosting, apparently in blackface. After a mild panic attack, I mixed in some white face paint, shakily apologised to actually everyone at the party, and had a terrific night that not a single one of my terrible friends has let me forget.

While there are no longer any photos of the purpleface costume because I made everyone delete them while I watched, here is the nice version I wish I had arrived in.

Christopher
Photograph: Catherine Adsett

The year before was hardly better. For like nine different, confusing, stupid reasons, I was supposed to dress as The Ghost of Sheriff Donald Duck. Dont ask why, it could not possibly be worth your time.

I ended up looking like a serial killer. Pressure to wear a ghost/sheriff outfit with a homemade mouth hole gets the best of us all. Chris Woods

Guardian

Niki Aken: I dressed as a Cronulla Rioter but people just thought I was racist

A few years ago I got roped into a Halloween party in Sydney at the last minute. I thought about what really scared me, and landed on the people involved in the infamous 2005 Cronulla race riots.

It was ease of assembly that sealed the deal: Australian flags, fake tattoos and green and gold zinc are pretty easy to come by on short notice. It was six or seven years after the riots, and Im a quick-to-laugh, gregarious kind of person, so the idea that anyone would confuse me with an actual bloodthirsty hooligan honestly didnt cross my mind. If anything, I thought I might get the odd high-five in solidarity against racism!

The party was bigger than I expected and drew a wide cross-section of Sydney folk. Patriotic Australian, people would guess, only to quickly move on when they saw fuck off, were full scrawled along my arm.

On one side of the spectrum I was upsetting people who were rightly disheartened by the riots; on the other, I was pissing off rioter-sympathisers. Everyone in between just wanted to cut loose with reckless abandon, and my downer costume wasnt helping.

In the wee hours of the morning, a guy tapped me on the shoulder. That is a really, really good costume. He didnt high five me though, so Im still chalking this one up as a fail. Niki Aken

Adam Tingay: I crumbed myself

The theme was nice and broad: Tis a silly place. So apparently when I go to my silly place I get crumbed. Shorts, shoes, three dozen eggs and five kilograms of breadcrumbs.

I applied it on the lawn with the assistance of some friends and a drop sheet. Strange reactions when people realised what I was, then looks of horror later when Id casually pick off flaking chunks and nibble of them.

Guardian
Photograph: Supplied by Adam Tingay

It was probably the craziest costume I ever made, and the one Im most proud of. Adam Tingay

Anon: I dressed as a Nazi. I KNOW.

Back in 2009, before anyone had ever used the word woke, my friend had a party themed I Cant Believe You Wore That To My 21st. At the time, my friends and I were engaged in a constant battle of oneupmanship who could go to the most extreme lengths?

I realised my costume may not have hit the sardonic mark I was going for when I saw the other partygoers dressed in pyjamas, ugly wigs, garbage bags, bad 80s powersuits and ill-fitting bikinis. Two of the parents at the party pointed, scowled and shook their heads at my from across the room.

I apologise unreservedly, and if you happen to be reading this and have any photos of me from that night, please, for the love of god, delete them.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/costume-and-culture/2016/oct/29/i-unreservedly-apologise-what-happens-when-costumes-go-very-very-wrong