The rules: fancy dress
An etiquette guide to the kind of costume you should be wearing
The politics of fancy dress
Ronald Reagan once said: "If you're explaining, you're losing." (He didn't explain exactly what he meant by this – and he won two US presidential elections, which rather proves the point.) Reagan's rule is best understood in the context of dressing up. If you go to a fancy dress party, and you need to keep explaining who you have come as, your costume is a failure.
If you are a Conservative MP and you find yourself explaining how you ended up at a stag party with a man wearing a Nazi uniform, toasting the Third Reich, it is safe to assume your political career has taken a turn for the worse. The exception is if you want to one day pursue a career as a Ukip councillor.
If, like Aidan Burley MP, your defence in this situation is that you were unaware that fascist memorabilia would be involved and regret not having left the party earlier, it is good practice to make sure this is true. In fact, Burley was the best man and had bought the SS costume himself. If you find yourself buying an SS costume, consider the possibility that you are not cut out for democratic politics.
As a general rule for any social situation in which you are not a Nazi, it is time to leave when the Nazi chanting starts. Do not charge Nazi memorabilia to your parliamentary expenses. (Burley didn't do this, but it is hard not to suppose that the only reason was that he didn't think of it at the time.)
The psychology of fancy dress
Children love dressing up, especially in clothes that make them feel grown up. Adults like dressing up because it reminds them of that feeling of being children getting excited about dressing like a grownup. What this indicates is that actually being a grownup is generally overrated and involves spending a lot of time in disappointing clothes.
Anyone who goes to a party in fancy dress will feel a pang of anxiety immediately before arrival that they have made a mistake and it is not a fancy dress party at all.
If you have this feeling before arriving at a wedding or funeral, go home and change. Only senior members of the clergy are allowed to wear ridiculous clothes in churches.
The ostensible purpose of stipulating a dress code is to make sure everyone knows what the appropriate clothes are for an occasion.
The actual effect is to make people feel anxious that they do not have the appropriate clothes for the occasion. If you are a man going to a black-tie event, dedicate some time to learning how to tie a real bow tie. This will enable you to wear the undone tie loosely around your neck and look louche at the end of the evening, which is one of the few pleasures of black-tie occasions.
You do not need a cummerbund. The ridiculousness of the word conveys the absurdity of the item. The cummerbund is an elaborate hoax invented by Moss Bros to trick people who worry about what to wear into spending even more money.
If you are a Scottish man you can wear Highland dress to black-tie occasions. This is especially popular among posh English men with tenuous family connections to Scotland.
A dress code indicating "white tie" means the occasion is so posh that you will probably feel out of place no matter what you are wearing.
A dress code indicating "lounge suit" means the kind of occasion where everyone stands around drinking tepid white wine, looking over each other's shoulders scanning the crowd for someone more important to talk to.
A dress code indicating "smart casual" means the kind of party that is over by 10pm.
Never dress up as…
Perpetrators of genocide.
Revered religious leaders.
Your partner's ex-lamb, if you are mutton.