1. Only play if you want to.
I know that the idea of fancy dress can be an emotive issue. In the political hotbed of the school playground, it can split parents like no other issue, other than perhaps who’s the fittest Cbeebies presenter. I’m afraid I must admit straight away that I am decidedly pro dress-up day. As soon as I find out the theme, I’m clapping my hands with joy and planning a trip to Hobbycraft. Around 50% of the time I then I forget about the whole thing until the night before and bodge something together while a bit drunk, when attaching sparklers to a seven-year-old’s boots is a sodding genius idea.
Sometimes I manage to pull off a good outfit, I fondly recall my Gruffalo of World Book Day 2012, and sometimes I have an epic fail, such as last year’s Dalek, which resulted in the teacher ‘wanting a quick word’ with me at pick up time. Basically, If you have put in the time and effort to make a decent outfit, it’s ok to be proud of it, just don’t get too cocky, because next year it could be you covering your kid in labels because no one can work out who the hell they’re meant to be, or forgetting altogether. Like the kid I saw on Roald Dahl Day, who was dressed in normal clothes, but had a printout of a book cover cellotaped to his back. Weirdly he didn’t seem to mind not wearing a complicated and uncomfortable outfit all day. Perhaps it’s because dress-up is fun, but ultimately no one cares, and we all have busy lives.
2. It’s not a competition, except for when it totally is.
I know that a lot of the reason some people don’t like dress-up day, or cake bakes or project homework, is that they can introduce an element of competition between parents which is often seen as divisive and unfair. As someone who has never won anything in my life without resorting to cheating or blackmail or kidnapping the judge’s family, I quite like the jokey-competition of a load of slightly-deranged (mostly) mums high on the fumes of craft-glue, ignoring the cries of their petrified children as they mutter ‘more sequins’. For someone who works part-time from home and looks after small children the rest of the time, I enjoy the opportunity to do something a bit silly. I don’t expect everyone to do it, and I know no-one is giving out bonus parenting points for making instead of buying this stuff, but I’m not ashamed of the fact that last night I spent 2 hours making insects out of pipecleaners and I look forward to having my mates take the piss out of me for it. So there.
3. Enthusiasm counts for a lot.
I’m not the crafty-type to be honest. In fact, I’m not really any good at anything which requires presentation skills. My handwriting looks like something a cat’s coughed up and my dress sense looks like I’ve smothered myself in pritt stick and rolled about in Kate Bush’s jumble. I’ve tried to embrace my inner Nigella in the kitchen, but it turns out that in the tenth circle of hell, those guilty of having a Pinterest account are forced to stare at my poorly decorated cupcakes for all eternity; watched over by Mary Berry who laughs as their eyes bleed and they cry out for mercy and a piping bag. But I generally have a go at these things, and I genuinely love seeing overly-ambitious homemade efforts on the playground. Today I spotted a kid as Mike TV from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, who was actually inside a cardboard box TV. Simply marvellous.
4. Stick to the brief
I fully support the argument that graphic novels is a vastly underrated genre and should be recognised as worthy for Booker Prize entry. However I’m still not sure you can really justify sending your kid to school as Batman on World Book Day. Loads of people do, and I know that I’ve done it in the past myself. My son insisted that he could allowed to go as a Transformer because he has a Transformer book, dismissing my insistence that a book of a film, doesn’t really count. To which he argued that surely the ethos of World Book Day was all about inspiring children to read books and that it was not a time for arbitrary distinctions of high and low art. I accepted his point, but countered that, the he was himself undermining the spirit of World Book Day by using a loophole to bring cartoons into a day which was supposed to promote literature. That’s when he reminded me that he was six and wanted to wear his Bumblebee outfit he got for Christmas and if I had a problem with that perhaps I should consider getting a life. I relented, but I cut him out of my will for spoiling World Book Day for me and in forty years he’ll learn a valuable lesson about respecting his elders. Anyway, a few years ago I recall one mum making an incredible costume which must have taken her hours and all the kids loved it, -seriously it was amazing- but it was a character from a Pixar film, and all I could hear was the parents whispering ‘It’s not a book though is it?’
So the moral is with dress-up day- as with life- if you’re going to challenge the rules, be flagrant and unapologetic, and no one will think the less of you, but make an effort to create something with love and you will be vilified on a technicality.