Sean Moncrieff: In life, you’re going to your debs. Over and over again
At every posh do, a bit of you is your teenage self, entering the adult world again
Everyone looks great at the start of the night. But later on, the ties get loosened, the jackets come off. The crippling shoes are discarded and pieces of hair architecture become untethered. Photograph: iStock
Every year, I attend the Irish Radio Awards in Kilkenny. It’s become a ritual for me, a sign that autumn is finally darkening around. And every year I do the same thing. I drive down on the Friday, get frustrated and shocked by just how the bad the traffic is exiting Dublin, (which I shouldn’t, given I have done this so many times before), arrive later than I’d planned, run to the room, throw on the clothes and head back down to the foyer, slightly flustered, to sip Prosecco and gawk at the other radio types arriving.
But that’s about it for me. It’s simple really. For my female colleagues, the week before this has been a tormented quest to find a dress that they like, that is flattering and that won’t be worn by half a dozen other women. Daily, mounds of packaged clothes arrive into the office: which are immediately set upon and brought to the loo, along with some trusted advisers. Some bulk order, knowing that all but one will be sent back. Hopefully.
And even the day itself seems an exhausting dash between hair and make-up places, along with the last-minute scrambles for safety pins and mascara and Spanx.
We seem to get a bit giddy at the prospect of wearing our grown-up clothes and pretending we do this sort of thing all the time
This is male privilege at its finest. I don’t have to do any of that. Just throw on my multi-purpose court appearance/funeral/award events suit. I shave. I may buy new socks. I may shine my shoes. Off I go.
Of course, everyone looks great at the start of the night. But later on, the ties get loosened, the jackets come off. The crippling shoes are discarded and pieces of hair architecture become untethered. There’s dancing and shots and nonsense conversations and the odd person who has to be put to bed.
I’m not describing the radio awards anymore – or not particularly. Around this time of year, all sorts of industries stage their own variations. Some give out prizes, some don’t. All of them have speeches and dinner and the vast majority are described as “black tie”, which is bizarre and inaccurate. Go to any of these posh work outings and you won’t be struck by what the men are wearing. They all look exactly the same.
A bit giddy
Yet people, for the most part, enjoy them. The Irish are not particularly formal, yet we seem to get a bit giddy at the prospect of wearing our grown-up clothes and pretending we do this sort of thing all the time. There’s something sweet and almost child-like about it, though on a coldly dispassionate level, it also seems a bit daft. Going out with the people from work is great, but would it make any great difference if we all wore jeans and T-shirts instead?
Yeah, it would.
This may be something to do with our youth. The other day, I was driving daughter number two to school. It’s Leaving Cert year and she was outlining some dilemma to do with the pre-debs. Or the pre-pre-debs. Or the debs itself. To be honest, I wasn’t really listening because it struck me that her debs will be the first time she gets to dress up in this way; the first (and possibly last) time she gets to see her date wearing a tux.
She’ll go through all the transformative preparations for the night, but at a time in her life when she too is transforming: stumbling, as we all do, into adulthood. That stumble is long and often difficult. But it tends to be landmarked by a singular night.
It’s the kind of thing that stays with you; that oddly repeats during the course of a lifetime. So every time you get dressed up to go to that autumnal formal occasion, perhaps a small part of you is your teenage self, entering the grown-up world again.