Welcome to Debate Club, a column where we pose club culture's biggest conundrums to an expert panel, dealing with everything from the ethics of flirting to the spatial-politics of dancing, the joy of a French exit, and the horrors of ketamine.
This week's panelists are THUMP UK staffers Josh Baines and Angus Harrison, alongside VICE UK staff writer Joe Bish.
The question: Does it matter what you wear on a night out?
Joe Bish: Of course it fucking matters. What's the point of all the books about 'tribes' and 'culture' and all that shit if what you wear—the only immediate non-verbal signifier to other people about who you are—doesn't matter? Nightwear has always mattered, since functions and parties were first thought up by, I don't know, the ancient Egyptians. When they were dancing around the statue of Anubis and drinking scarab beetle wine they probably stuck on their most bestest eyeliner made of dried shit and burnt logs and a sweet coloured rag to impress all the girls in the toilets. Sometimes it's not about self expression either, it's about functionality. You wear white trainers going in and they won't be white coming out. Jackets with hidden pockets can be used to conceal drugs. A club is an environment that isn't really like any other. It's not the same as a restaurant or a café or a cinema or a fun fair or any other entertainment venue. You could argue that it's dark and no one can see what you're wearing. But who says it's about anyone else? What happened to dressing up nicely just for the sake of it? If I wasn't such a lazy, slovenly cunt I'd probably dress to the nines every day. Sadly I am a corpulent cosy boy, going from one massive, Scooby-Doo-esque sandwich to the next, getting Ubers to go meters.
No one likes looking like shit, and when you go out it's a chance for you to rid yourself of the shackles of your own appearance. Stick some spanx on, wear something nice. Try and convince people you're not a 24/7 slob. If you do a good enough job your efforts will be shared far and wide via the 'Gram and maybe one or two Facebook tags. You get a like, you feel good. But more importantly everyone else knows that you can turn a trick when it comes to looking alright. You should also always try and set yourself apart. Don't be the 103rd guy in the room wearing a Palace hoodie.
I don't know in what world what you wear doesn't matter. It mattered long before Thump was asking me banal questions and it'll matter long after the idea of the club itself is dead, the big rave in the sky calling its name.
Josh Baines: While I think Bish has a point, I think we can't overestimate just how badly most people dress. British people are the most objectively terrible dressers in Europe, and globally we're only beaten by Americans. Look out of your window, amble down a high street, or head into any pub in the land and you'll see what I mean; Britain is awash with adult men who seemingly have no concept of how to dress themselves. These people roam the streets wearing brown trainers, maroon chinos, and ill-fitting t-shirts emblazoned with the fucking Cookie Monster on.
So it follows that these people might, every so often, find themselves in a nightclub. They you are, boogying away to whatever woke techno DJ you're supposed to love because they occasionally tweet about the fucking PLP and don't think sexism is a good thing. You're pretending to have the time of your life. And then you spot a bloke at the bar wearing one of those hats that looks like a shit-filled nappy, some drop-crotch jogging bottoms, and hi-top Batman trainers. What do you do?
You can either shriek in horror or you just simply accept the fact that like most things in club culture, and life at large, it doesn't matter at all. Now, that's not me saying that you should go out wearing a fucking Minions pyjama set, or—heaven forbid!—bootcut jeans and school shoes, because that is a heinous act of self-hatred, but honestly, what other people are wearing, what you are wearing is probably the least important thing about an activity which is about as important as amateur badminton or caber tossing.
Angus Harrison: Now that we've heard from the for and against, I'd like to tell you a short cautionary tale.
It was Christmastime in Bristol and I was 16 years-old. A nightclub was stoking the festive flames by holding an event called—and the wording here is very important so I would implore you to pay close attention—"The Office Christmas Party." I, in my immeasurable naivety took this to mean, The Office as in The Office, the seminal BBC2 sitcom of 2001. The series was an obsession that bordered on a lifestyle choice for my friendship group during secondary school, so even though we were trying to graduate away from evenings spent watching scratched DVDs and into the world of nighttime, alcohol and eternal glory, we still couldn't resist the chance to capitalise on a David Brent themed club-night. I was young, foolish, and intent on proving myself the biggest Office fan in the building, so took it upon myself to perfectly recreate David Brent's emu costume from the end of series 2. I was wearing orange leggings, a fluffy yellow kilt, and had even made a bird's neck and head from tinsel, a wooden spoon and a plastic cup. I had stuck googly eyes on the cup. I had stuck googly eyes on the cup. I had stuck googly eyes on the cup. Needless to say we had misread the intentions of the organisers. The theme was a generic "office Christmas party," a fancy-dress suggestion that 99% of punters had ignored anyway. And so I spent one of my first nights out in a car park, rain pelting my felt skirt, removing orange webbing from my trainers. I checked the bird's googly head into the cloakroom, and continued the rest of the evening in leggings and one of my dad's work shirts.
What I suppose I'm trying to get at is: yes it does matter what you wear, but only as far as you feel comfortable. There's nothing less convincing than a badly-fitted suit. I agree with Bish that it matters—a new t shirt can make you feel invincible, and there is no shame in trying to elevate your standing on the social food chain—but if you don't care, then any laboured attempt to "dress up" is going to fall flat. Maybe the best practice is to use the club as a place where you can push the truest version of yourself to the fore. Maybe that means daring to bleach your hair and wear a string vest, or maybe that just means disappearing into the blackness in a t shirt and jeans. Or, maybe that means dressing up like an office manager riding an emu. I'm calling it: yes it matters, but hey…you do you.