Collage of a woman lying down reading a magazine
Collage: Eleanor Shakespeare


Does growing up mean the end of raucous nights out?

The shops are full of sequins and velvet party dresses, but Marisa Bate has nowhere to wear them. Is this what it means to be a thirtysomething?

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By Marisa Bate on

The other evening, I was hanging out with some Brownies for a work thing. They were ludicrously delightful, their little frames spontaneously cartwheeling, their enthusiastic hands reaching for the sky because they knew the answer. Giggling, these seven-year-olds washed away my cynicism on a cold November night. And before I knew it, a small but determined finger was pressing on my collarbone. A Sixer had stuck a sticker on me that said: “Party!”

It’s still on my jacket and I felt like I’d been accepted into this yabbering mighty mini-army – yet it actually sort of made me sad. The little sticky circle of revolting colours, with a background akin to the opening credits of Saved By The Bell, and an overly zealous exclamation mark, brought about a moment of existential emptiness: when was the last time I went to a party?

When do I ever go “out-out” – the phrase that suggests an evening’s activity is more than two glasses of house white in the pub. To be fair, we had some friends over recently and we were up until 2am, but we were drunkenly singing Boyz II Men and someone had actually put slippers on.

And here we are again. That moment each year when every single shop on the high street suddenly only caters for those individuals attending lavish black-tie dos in fancy hotel ballrooms or auditioning for a role in a Whitney Houston video circa 1987. Party dresses of velvet and sequins and drama catch your eye on the way to the office. And I think they are fabulous. I’ve loved party dresses since I was a cartwheeling seven-year-old. They are transformative; they suggest occasion; they suggest wild abandon of whatever it is you’re normally meant to be doing.

But, now, I just look and think about those fleece-lined black leather boots I should buy instead. Or the oversized sheepskin brown coat that would keep me warm and also pay homage to The Band. For some reason, I don’t long to be Liv Tyler in Versace these days – I just yearn to be warm and comfortable and dry.

Somehow I’ve been lulled into the belief that early mornings and blankets and long reads and Netflix documentaries are the pillars of my life that keep me happy and content

Which is actually heartbreaking because I used to live for nights out and impractical party dresses, inspired by the holy trinity of Iris Apfel, Dallas and Kate Moss. My twenties were a blur of second-hand sequins falling off on to the sticky club floors in Brighton’s Laines. More was more was more and nights were endless. Even after the chaos of student life, Friday nights would start properly at 1am when we arrived at a well-known east London establishment called The Dolphin, void of daylight and decorum, and alight with gin and tonics and men you’ll (thankfully) never see again and so much dancing. Dancing and dancing until the birds were singing and sky was light. We’d sweat as much as we danced and we’d meet a million strangers, only to do it all again the following Friday.

And that dancing daze was a release. It was good for the soul. It was switching off your mind and giving over entirely to your limbs and a record you knew every word to because they played it the week before and the week before that, and every word sounded as if it had been written for you, about your life. And even in there, I’d have my party dress on. I was never the kind of girl who dressed down to play it cool. There was far too much fun to be had for that. The grimy old boozer was the perfect place for the black silk dress and bright red lips and a handbag that could double up as a Christmas decoration.

So, what’s changed? I still love to dance, but now weddings are my main opportunity. And I love the idea of sequins and velvet and going out without a jacket because you don’t want to pay for the cloakroom. But my reality is more boozy dinner parties and Ubers home or weekend nights in with tracksuit bottoms and a fully stocked fridge. Friends invite me to brunch or exhibitions or long walks in the country. Somehow I’ve been lulled into the belief that early mornings and blankets and long reads and Netflix documentaries are the pillars of my life that keep me happy and content.

And maybe, for the most part, they do. Maybe something happens when the clock strikes midnight and you enter your thirties. Maybe the chemicals in your brain turn from an adrenaline-inducing Caribou track pulsating through your chest at a rave in Paris to some slow jazz and a cheeseboard. Or, maybe you suddenly realise you’ve been out-out every night for 10 years and could do with some sleep. But, either way, something’s changed. It hurts to say it, but I’ve hung up my sequins. I've stopped jumping into taxis at midnight that take me to a grimy cave of hedonism and fun. Instead, they take me home for an early night.

So, I will endeavour to throw off the blanket a bit more in the run-up to Christmas this year. Praise be the disco gods for & Other Stories and their party dresses that look less Vera Duckworth at the Christmas do and more like something you might actually wear again. I’ll invest in some navy velvet and moderate sequins and send out the party-bat signal to my friends. It’s time to go to work. And maybe we’re more Art Deco bar than former-boozer-turned-illicit-hovel, but it’s time to lift our souls and pound our feet and dress like the night is more important than the day. Getting lost in the black of a consequence-free night without the shackles of tomorrow’s worries is medicine. Let’s go dancing. Let’s go out-out.


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Collage: Eleanor Shakespeare
Tagged in:
Growing up
going out

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