Postcard from Beijing... no 2

Why Beijing loves a fancy dress party…

I’ve attended a fair few fancy dress parties in my time, but never as many as I have been toin Beijing. From birthdays to housewarming occasions, Halloween and Hen nights, Beijing dwellers delight – it seems – in dressing up in costume.

Case in point? Last week-end alone, I was invited to no fewer than three fancy dress parties including an Asian inspired birthday party (think geisha girls/sumo wrestlers et al) and a Russian themed party (the hosts have just moved into a new apartment near Alien Street Market, aka Beijing’s little Moscow, hence the leitmotif of their shindig). These latest invites have got me wondering just why Beijing loves a fancy dress party?

The answer, I think, is three fold. Beijingers love a costume party because they’re just so darn fashionable – if in doubt check out the Chinese crowd at Sanlitun’s 3.3 Mall and Xidan for an eye opening education. For while the westerners in my office waltz into the workplace in any old pair of jeans, born and bred Beijingers tend to treat each new work day as a catwalk show. From dresses adorned with zips to jumpers with pussy bows and funky neon hued tights, their creativity knows no bounds. From where I am standing, fancy dress parties allow native Beijingers to indulge their imagination further and create even more magical fashion moments.

As for laowai like me? Well being in Beijing is all about new experiences and playing ‘dress up’ certainly makes for a different night out – as well as ensuring lots of random stories to write, sorry Skype, home about. There’s also a practical reason why fancy dress parties are becoming a must in Beijing… An LBD (that’s little black dress for those not on planet fashion) will leave you (or your girlfriend’s) purse strings suffering – have you seen the prices in shops such as Massimo Dutti and Zara? The Spanish siblings’ threads are, bizarrely, notably much more expensive than in Europe or the US. Conversely costumes and outlandish accessories can be picked up for peanuts at places like Yashow, Alien Street and the Silk Market.

But the real reason, I think, that Beijingers – both laowai and locals – like dressing up can be attributed to Beijing working life. People work crazy hours in the capital and consequently are looking to leave the office behind in their down time, which is where fancy dress parties come in. Costume themed parties allow us to completely escape the office culture and enter a world of make believe. It’s a world where the shy secretary can become Scarlett O Hara – the gregarious heroine of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind – or the office geek can be transformed into a super hero every once in a while (or should that be once upon a time?) Fancy dress parties provide all of us with the opportunity to step out of our comfort zone and try on different sized lives for size.

And, with the party season now well and truly upon us, costume nights are likely to become more popular than ever. I’ll be planning my costumes carefully as I prepare to party – and promise to let you know how I get on!