Why Jane Asher’s ’80s Guide To Fancy Dress Feels So Relevant Right Now

The heart wants what it wants. definitely the only way to explain the eccentric hobbies and characters that have taken over the popular imagination over the last 12 months. There was banana bread, the HouseParty app and Joe Exotic (lock: the early years). There was the yeast, Joe Wicks and for those who did not want to deal with reality, the game Nintendo Animal Crossing: New Horizons. New Yorkers and wannabe The New Yorkers teamed up to dominate Fran Lebowitz and her recent Netflix show, Pretend It’s a City. The French were fascinated by Kapital !, a board game about the war class. And then, over a week or so last month, people around the world came together to cling to a 1983 book, Jane Asher’s Fancy Dress, which promises “Over 100 costumes for kids and adults and how to we make “. Pictures from the post – an older man dressed in a butterfly, with red leggings, cardboard wings and dark sunglasses furnished with wire. a red-haired man, dressed in a carrot, dances with a woman wearing a red and white costume. four people, some adults, some children, covered with a 12 meter painted bubble, posing as Loch Ness monster – went viral on Twitter.

Jane Asher’s recent success on the Internet was born of another pandemic trend. a daily walk around the square to try to get rid of ennui and resentment. It was early February and the poet Alina Pleskova was on one of the “walks of reason” in her neighborhood in West Philadelphia, where there is, as in many communities, a “terrace culture”, as Pleskova puts it, books, clothes and other unwanted but well-preserved items that passers-by can pass. “I often get things – mostly books or knitwear, what my mother would call ‘rubbish’, but I don’t see it that way,” she says. It was the cover of Asher’s book that caught her eye. three children dressed as pots, with crepe petals around their faces, along with two others dressed as insects, a ladybug and a caterpillar. “It was definitely more exciting than the rice I found last week,” he says.

The pandemic heart is thirsty for the smart and capricious, writes Lou Stoppard of Jane Asher’s revival.

He immediately felt an emotional attachment. “My grandfather was a tailor for the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow. I grew up near his sewing machine, watching him. I did not inherit any of his skills, I can sew a button, for all of them, but in the way quarantine makes you aspire to the skills you are going to acquire, I took it home and thought, maybe I will try this. “

The pandemic heart is thirsty for the sly, capricious and, in the face of a toxic mixture of monotony and turmoil, the twisted comic, the strange, the camp. anything that is somewhere between a relief of light and mania. Asher’s book notes these boxes, also talking about the passion for learning and DIY that abound through quarantine – see crochet, knitting, baking. Costumes make heavy use of objects that today sweep our homes. cardboard boxes, toilet paper rolls, cereal boxes, pasta. It is, as Pleskova puts it, “charmingly opposed to the polished Pinterest DIY culture and mom blogs, where everything is so perfect and professional.” It also offers a reminder of the upcoming celebrations, that he is sweating in a crowded room while wearing something fun and memorable.

Pleskova posted some photos from the book on Twitter: a couple dressed in a huge suit, made of brown cardboard. the jacket, the pants; A “sandwich man” enclosed between two large squares of cardboard, decorated to look like sliced ​​white bread. a woman equipped as a firework, with a spray of orange and red wired chiffon sticking out of a headrest. “When the edible blows,” Pleskova wrote the latter. “I do not want to look at another book in my life,” he added.

The tweet spread quickly – 21.5k retweets, 173.5k likes. Some responded with photos of their younger ones in Jane Asher costumes from their parents. blurry snapshots of children of indefinite character posing awkwardly as pots or Christmas trees. (The book was reprinted five times a year after it was first published in the 1980s.) Others began to identify familiar faces among the costumes. “Is this Martin Shaw?” asked a Sandwich Man (yes). Another identification of Joanna Lumley as Knickerbocker glory, wrapped in layers of colored toilet paper. Elsewhere, a mini Emilia Fox, then about eight or nine, appears as a turtle with a corrugated cardboard shell. Some Twitter users have turned their attention to another of Asher’s most successful releases, Jane Asher’s Party Cakes, which offers tips on making a kitchen sink-shaped cake or a plate of spaghetti from which, when I was a child, my mother He instructed me in our local library.

“It simply came to our notice then. “I would like to do a social gathering,” says Pleskova about acquiring it. “I hope we have a moment of blatant uncontrollable joy and pleasure.” Such a concept has a precedent: “After times of war or conflict or pandemics in the past, there has always been a movement. Roaring of the 1920s, disco of the 1970s, he adds. “I hope we have a version of that. I’m ready to wear some clothes, some really ridiculous clothes. “

Jane Asher herself, a quarantine in the UK with her family, heard about her new fame on Twitter from her bride and the staff of the National Autistic Society, of which she is president. “It’s a lot of fun to go viral,” he says cheerfully. Asher started her career as an actress and her inspiration for the book came, in part, from her time wearing theatrical costumes – “to make things look good, from the outside”. The book was created when her publisher wanted to continue her successful cake guide. It was, he says, a lot of hard work to find so many “very, silly” costumes. Her celebrity models – friends and colleagues from her actresses – were “great sports”. She does not have a favorite look, she says, but she is particularly proud of a technique: “The whole process of using toilet paper was a breakthrough.”

Asher can rationalize the book’s current appeal, in part because of growing ecological awareness – to a modern reader, the book is strangely pulsating with a political message of recycling, reuse and storage. And partly because of the roses. “For the young people who are tweeting about it today, it is far behind. “When I was at that time, it was like coming across something from the 1920s.” “They probably think life was so wonderful,” he laughs. “Right now, I think anything that gives that feeling of meeting friends, single, joy is extremely appealing.”

“I hope we have a moment of blatant uncontrollable joy and pleasure,” says Alina Pleskova, who stumbled upon the book, about life after Covid.

© Charlotte Wales

In the book’s introduction, Asher writes about the history of costume parties and how they intersect in their quest for freedom and relief. “One of the attractions seems to have been the change of character and the relaxation of morals that was possible when a disguise was made,” he writes of 17th-century European ball covers. More recent fancy parties include the Chelsea Arts Club Ball, which has operated annually since the club was founded in 1891, and inspired by surreal fancy parties, some artists began holding in their studios in the 1880s and its Rothschild Surrealist ball. 1972, attended by Salvador Dalí and Audrey Hepburn (in a cage-like hat). Will similarly high jinks and hedonism occur? Even Asher, the party is not hesitant. “Shall we wander in grace? I do not know, “she said.” There was so much sadness. But I hope better times come. “

In 1983, one of Asher’s costumes looked ahead. “The Future” (on page 39, between Punk and Knickerbocker Glory), requires silver foil, plastic cups, bubble wrap, and plenty of wire to create a robotic, space-like look. “Without a doubt, home PCs will be programmed to do almost anything we want,” he wrote. If he was designing such a suit now, what would he do? “If I was depressed, I think I could design a suit made entirely of Amazon cardboard,” he says. “More optimistically, a homemade hand-knitted, made from the wool of an extremely viable flock of sheep.” Imagine, he says, “all non-recyclable or non-compostable materials have been banned in the middle of the 21st century.”

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