Everyone needs to calm down about fancy dress

Great British Bake-Off star Paul Hollywood has said he’s ‘devastated’ to have caused offence after the Sun on Sunday published an old picture of him in a fancy-dress Nazi uniform. Despite an inevitable outburst of online outrage, the response from the rest of the commentariat has been remarkably restrained, with columns in both the Guardian and the Independent arguing that real anger should be saved for ‘real’ Nazis (even if they differed on who the real Nazis might be). For many, just being reminded of the existence of Piers Morgan is enough to inspire the sharpening of pitchforks, but even his attempt to defend Hollywood was greeted with indifference rather than anger. 

While we should welcome this brief respite from the automatic outrage we’ve become accustomed to, it is nonetheless remarkable that, today, dressing-up as a Nazi war criminal provokes less disgust than dressing in outfits considered guilty of ‘cultural appropriation’ or which offend against other PC sensibilities. 

As with every tedious new trend, university campuses have been at the centre of costume controversies. At the University of East Anglia, students’ sombreros were confiscated. Across the pond, students at Bowdoin College faced disciplinary action for hosting a tequila party with tiny sombreros. Those affected by this outrageous party were offered counselling. Brock University in Canada unveiled a list of outlawed outfits which included the sacred, the profane and everything in between, from religious dress to Bill Cosby costumes. A Yale professor and her husband were even forced to resign after suggesting students should be able to dress as they please on Halloween.

Even off campus, fancy dress still ruffles feathers. After a pile-in from charities, celebrities and politicians, Tesco and Asda pulled ‘mental-health patient’ costumes from their shelves. The public is clearly considered incapable of distinguishing between a real-life sufferer of depression and a blood-drenched, knife-wielding psychopath from a horror film. 

Equally blasphemous are any costumes which depict the reality star Caitlyn Jenner, whose image is guarded with a religious zealotry. According to Stonewall, to represent Jenner in an unflattering light through fancy dress is ‘totally unacceptable’; it has called for costumes of her likeness to be ‘taken off shelves immediately’.

Clickbait factories like Bustle have delighted in joining this new inquisition, producing listicles like ‘19 Sexist & Racist Halloween Costumes You Should Stay The Hell Away From’.  The Huffington Post similarly warns against dressing as sexy nurses and fat people.

What the constant outrage over outfits loses sight of is that fancy dress is an opportunity for experimentation, transgression and, yes, provocation, too. If we can keep calm over Paul Hollywood’s Nazi garb, why not chill out over Caitlyn and cultural appropriation?

Fraser Myers is a producer at WORLDbytes.

For permission to republish spiked articles, please contact Viv Regan.

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