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SUBCULTURE

We Dance Again

March 2021
Words by Paul Flynn

An ode to Saturday nights and the joyful ritual of getting dressed up.

At the bottom of the cupboard underneath my kitchen sink, tucked away on the left-hand side there sits an unremarkable old shoebox, untroubled for the best part of a year. It is late March, 2021 and the pleasing, functional musk which emanates from that unloved recess next to the scouring pads, glass cleaner, mopheads and bleach has started tickling the senses each time the cabinet door swings open, possessed of a present tension I could never quite have imagined even twelve months previously.

This perfectly ordinary manilla box has started taking on an emblematic life of its own. It is as if the documentary film director of my domestic life suddenly decided to turn its gaze adroitly to the places never peaked at before and animate them into life. The box contains a tortoiseshell shoehorn, brown, black and clear boot polish, a hardy leather brush handed down from my maternal granddad five years before he died, several scuffed cloths, bruised from the industrious lacquer of overuse, a very rudimentary sewing kit and half a dozen spare pairs of shoelaces. Suddenly, they feel like the individual stars of a movie canned before its production.

The cardboard box under the sink used to get at least a once weekly airing, in order to put the ritualistic finishing touches to steady preparations for a Saturday night out. I’d never clocked the ceremonial significance of these regular appearances until they stopped. But over the years, from first learning that to care about what you wear is a pretty good indicator of caring who you are, its accrued value has heightened with each passing season. For the last year, the shoebox under the sink, the one that didn’t even know how special it was has laid dormant. Because who, in all honesty dresses up when there is nowhere to go? When even the macabre occasion of a distant family member’s funeral is beamed into the house on a laptop screen.

A week has passed now since the road to coronavirus recovery was warily, tentatively mapped from that familiar government wooden lectern. The mode of address was hardly the point. What mattered was the esoteric magic and promise it contained, however guarded, of some semblance of normality returning to the unprecedented pause of the last year; the thrill of filling in the breaks of our lives interrupted. I could almost hear an audible sigh of shared relief spreading to inanimate objects, the corporeal excitement and delight of the shoebox under the sink knowing that once more, its purpose would be found.

The scents lined up on a bathroom shelf looked tantalisingly like getting themselves back in business. The potions and lotions that combine to characterise a less-used you steadied themselves into a recovery position. A starting gun very nearly been fired on the moth balls, preparing themselves to attack those pesky invisible insects with the mendacious larvae on your behalf. The posh tie corner of the top drawer, unfingered for so many months, readied itself for the feeling of fresh flesh. The tweezers, ready to snip a rogue eyebrow clean away, once more standing to attention. Perhaps, Dear God, at some point we might even think about removing the sleeping bag covering of a best jacket or run a roller over a treasured knit to wipe it free of its pills and fluff. The ceremony of Saturday night dressing up was close enough to touch, far enough away to still dream of.    

Yes, there have been moments over the months upon months that Covid swiped from us in which we have felt the pull of wearing something nicer than usual, that strangely competitive, slightly schizophrenic sensation of wanting to outdo yourself. But the social footnotes of the pandemic have played fast and loose with our sense of presentational self. Oddities have occurred, like the preponderance to dress only from the waist up, screen-ready, or learning how to live alongside insane hair. But the disappearance of those Saturday night rituals, now as redundant as the unused taps in your favourite boozer, hurt the hardest.

Saturday night is the shedding of the week’s skin, the rekindling of social adventure. We learn early, as teenagers to present a version of ourselves with a bit of personal sell, a touch of flash. We become the incumbent marketing men of our own individual brands. We put a Laurel on our chest to explain, tacitly, that we are better dressed than the ones who don’t. We intuit how to invest ourselves with a bit – but not too much, because that would be tacky – of sex appeal, a touch of mischief. We try and try and try and fail and fail and fail to get the hair right. Then we find what works for us and that’s that, until it falls out or greys. We carry about us as we dress for Saturday night the hint of the me that is not sat behind an office screen, under a car bonnet, on a football field, pushing a trolley around a supermarket, waiting in a GP’s surgery. When we don the togs of Saturday night and head out into the fray, when we get that thing right, we are wearing the armour of the invincible. This is what special clothes mean to us.

And this is what has been stolen from us, sartorially in the year that socialising forgot. Many have proffered ideas about what will change afterwards. Perhaps the pull of half-dressing at home, stumbling down a staircase to face the day ahead, at twenty paces removed from where we spent the night asleep, will stick? Maybe the leisurewear that has crept forward in the closet, stretchable fabrics which resist care, attention and upkeep, will be the winners out of all this. Maybe track pants, pyjamas and favourite old sweatshirts made for slumping on the sofa will prevail. Who, honestly are we kidding?

Just because we don’t shout about it doesn’t mean we aren’t fully prepared to step back into those Saturday night rituals we learned young and kept, immovable into adult life. If the timeline keeps, in two months’ time we will be able to enjoy a pint spilling onto our favourite friend’s Saturday night best. In three we can fall out of nightclubs, slurring our words and seeing double, wondering what happened to the brilliant man who entered here five hours ago? All those things we once took for granted, the gigs we cheered at, the festivals we fell over at, the weddings, baptisms and funerals we collated at, the dates we fretted over, the fancy dinners we punished the credit card for, the social lives we loved will be back. And we will have something to get ready for once again. To put on the song that makes you feel like Saturday night is about to start and to put on the clothes with which to honour it. To make the effort. To show we care about ourselves.

Because life will get better from all this mind-boggling emptiness, our clothes will get better, too. So, I have just had a peak underneath the kitchen sink, to remind my forgotten old friends that they will, before too long (touch wood) be of service and fit for purpose once more. Nothing could be more appealing, in this moment, than shining a shoe, safe in the knowledge that it will be absolutely, utterly battered by midnight and that whole cycle can begin again.