Style police; Fancy dressing at the court of the sun king

Guests at Elton John's 50th birthday party surpassed themselves this week for banality and vulgarity. It didn't used to be like this in Dame Barbara's day, reports James Sherwood

Like psychiatry, costume parties bring out the very best and the very worst in people. Theorists would have us believe that fancy-dress costumes are chosen in accordance with the way we like to perceive ourselves. So Elton John, celebrating his 50th year with a costume ball at the Hammersmith Palais this week, must see himself as a cross between Marie Antoinette, Miss Haversham and a meringue.

His Louis XlV ensemble, from the silver court shoes to the stately galleon on top of a three-foot high jewel-encrusted wig, was reputed to have cost Elton pounds 50,000. Frankly, if he'd turned up as a scale model of Imelda Marcos's entire wardrobe, we wouldn't have been the least surprised. Elton is, after all, the Nineties answer to Liberace. After modelling Versace couture this year, in a campaign that made him look like Pat Butcher's long lost sister, Elton can't possibly shock us now. It is the other guests who raised eyebrows.

"It's a disgrace," says Dame Barbara Cartland. "If you'd read my book We Danced All Night, you'd know that the bright young things threw marvellous costume parties in the Twenties and Thirties. Costumes were witty and intelligent, not banal and tasteless." Lord and Lady Lloyd Webber amply demonstrated Dame Barbara's point, with Andrew modelling a banal Middlesborough football strip and Madeleine a tasteless bunny-girl basque. The 600-strong guest list included Shirley Bassey as Cleopatra, Dawn French and Lenny Henry as Michael Jackson and Bubbles, Jean-Paul Gaultier as a knickerless French maid and Janet Street-Porter as Wonder Woman (make of that what you will).

Perish the thought that the Style Police are killjoys. But it takes more than Lulu dressed in a floaty green chiffon frock and a blonde wig to give a costume party glamour. When Truman Capote threw his Black & White Ball in the Sixties, newspaper tycoon Katherine Graham was the guest of honour, while Audrey Hepburn, Cecil Beaton, Princess Margaret, Princess Grace and Tallulah Bankhead attended. The Surrealist Ball, Proust Ball and Baron Alexis du Rede balls were attended by the crowned heads of Europe, Hollywood royalty and couturiers Elsa Schiaparelli, Coco Chanel and Christian Dior. I don't think Tara "Don't call me ubiquitous" Palmer-Tomkinson, Gary Barlow of Take That and Gaultier quite compare. The only saving grace was the absence of the Spice Girls.

"Most of the costumes were very DIY," sniffed a member of the Welsh Come Dancing troupe who entertained Elton's guests - and certainly didn't sew on all her own sequins. In fact, the only royalty to attend was Elton's mum dressed as the Queen. The only ingenious costume was worn by Elton's manager John Reid, who came as one of the male swans from Adventures in Motion Pictures's celebrated production of Swan Lake. It combined wit, sex and contemporary reference. That couldn't be said for 99 per cent of the other guests. Maybe the most telling comment was from pop idol of yesteryear Paul Young, who said the party was "The most brilliant thing I have ever seen." Now that's damning with faint praise if ever I heard it.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

    £20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

    Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

    £24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

    Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

    Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

    Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

    Day In a Page

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there