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I was previously invited to a friend's birthday party and was happy to go. They then announced that it would be a costume party (UK, so "fancy dress party") and I've had to pull out because I've never been able to wear costumes (it makes me embarrassed to the level of blushing so hard I feel faint - regardless of wanting to wear it or not).

Of course, this means they now know that's the reason and are trying to persuade me otherwise, since from their point of view going in a costume is just a bit of random fun, and they say I'm just being boring. At the same time, if I continue to press the point or even if I managed to get an exception to the costume rule, then a good chunk of the planning and appearance of the event would end up being defined by my personal problems, which is the last thing I want to do.

So how can I politely make clear that this is not an option for me without that casting a shadow over the whole thing for my friend?

  • Could you clarify: You have told them in all seriousness that you have a major issue with costumes and even "it makes me embarrassed to the level of blushing so hard I feel faint" and they discarded it as boring? What was your reaction? – Raditz_35 Aug 6 '18 at 14:58
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    I have not directly told them that because doing so could be taken as indirectly accusing them of excluding me. (Edit: I just did try and they said "just get drunk".) – Mark Green Aug 6 '18 at 15:42
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    Just to make things clear. You dont want go to the party now and want our help to tell your friends that? I say this because usually you will get a lot of advice on how go to the party. – Juan Carlos Oropeza Aug 6 '18 at 16:48
  • "if I managed to get an exception to the costume rule, then a good chunk of the planning and appearance of the event would end up being defined by my personal problems" - Can you clarify if there's a specific theme or not? There's a big difference between "everyone will be wearing random costumes" and "everyone will be wearing identical {wookie/smurf/t-rex} costumes". Though this difference probably only matters for answers doing what @Juan thinks you don't want... – AndyT Aug 7 '18 at 11:10
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Get a t-shirt that says "This is my Human Costume"

picture of a t-shirt saying "This is my human costume (I'm really a worm)"

Neither boring nor are you forced to wear a costume. They already know your objections, and this way, you've participated ironically without having to bow to a dress code. You'll still have to plan your outfit, but it won't be about a costume. Anyone asks, say "I'm not big into fancy dress, and I'd said yes before I knew it was a fancy dress party, so this is me." or "I don't like dressing up, but I do like parties, so this is me." Or "I'm not into fancy dress, but I do like NAMES OF FRIENDS HERE and wanted to come out tonight."

This one says "I'm really a worm," but there are a bunch of others that say "I'm really a giraffe" and so on...the most that might happen is that you might have to answer questions about really being a worm or a giraffe. (Answer "I'm not a giraffe tonight for sure--I'm super human, look at me doing human things! I'm eating chips! It's a really good costume. Giraffes don't eat chips.")

There are other options out there "Sorry I left my costume in the TARDIS" for Doctor Who fans, t-shirts that say "This is my Lazy Millennial Costume" and so on...

Basically, this is the lowest of low effort while still fitting in and being fun.

Just keep in mind that really, no one will probably care. Other people will be far more worried about their own stuff to give it much of a thought unless YOU make a big deal of it. Because it doesn't need to be, and your t-shirt can basically say that. I've been to parties in the U.S. where folks have worn these, and it's never been a big deal.

Congrats, you have now made it politely clear without saying a word, even though they already know! Once you've bought one of these, you'll now have a standard go-to outfit for any fancy dress party! Do wear pants.

As for not going to the party at all--you've really already done your due diligence on that basically saying "I'm not doing a costume and I won't be the only one there not in costume." They are being the rude ones for not empathizing with you..You've pretty much said all that you can say, and they are being pushy and making you anxious. Just stay firm but kind if you opt not to go.

With my solution, you neither have to wear a costume, nor are you excluded from the fun. And, I've seen this on folks who don't like costumes and people who just didn't feel like dressing up.

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    I'm not able to upvote this because it contradicts Mark Green's stated intention not to go to the party. As socially embarrassing as it is for Mark to wear a costume, to go wearing no costume, or a low-effort costume, sounds like it would be even more embarrassing. – Andrew Aug 7 '18 at 3:24
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    I'm unsure how this answers the OP's question about how to turn down an invite to a costume party. Can you edit this to focus on answering the OP's question. – sphennings Aug 7 '18 at 3:58
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    @sphennings I see it as a frame challenge: the question is "given that I can't wear a costume at a party without dying of embarrassment, how can I turn down the party?" and this answer says "here's a way you can avoid dying of embarassment". It could be an idea the OP never had and could solve the problem better than the most elegant way of not going to the party - as I read it, the OP would like to participate, after all. – LinuxBlanket Aug 7 '18 at 6:21
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    @sphennings Perhaps not the one in the title, but he's asking about how NOT to be an exception to the rule, while not casting a shadow over the party for his friend. This answers that. – Erin Thursby Aug 7 '18 at 8:30
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    @LinuxBlanket Exactly, I was all set to answer with polite refusal, but having read that they wanted to participate, wanted to make their friends comfortable, but didn't want to wear a costume, this is the answer I came up with based on that. – Erin Thursby Aug 7 '18 at 8:33
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How do I politely turn down a costume party invitation because I am too embarrassed to wear a costume?

As you say: they now know that's the reason and are trying to persuade me.

So, I'd say: be honest. Don't tell them the true reason if you don't feel like it, but let them know how their insistence on attending their party with a costume is making you feel really uncomfortable.

Put the cursor on your feelings, not on their behavior. Don't disclose what you want to keep hidden, but you need to set boundaries. Therefore, some explanation seems mandatory. For instance:

You guys already know how bad I feel about this costume thing of yours. Please understand that it's something I can't go over. It's personal. I don't want to spoil your party, but, at the same time, don't want to explain any further, or feel uncomfortable, bad or weird.

I was once in that kind of situation, very similar. I explained it to the folks in charge, they pushed a little more, I cut it short with a smile; and finally, didn't attend the party. I don't know if they noticed that I was not here, but I had no feedback, good or bad, the following days.

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If it's a houseparty.

There might be solution were you don't have to wear a costume to the party without being seen as a 'party-pooper'(as i think that is the way you see it).

If there is a pub nearby which is ok and they quite like it too(especially if it's the hosts' local - just let them know and go for a drink there. Either the hosts or possibly one of the others will pull you to the do anyway.

Not a party exactly, 2 friends were going to a gig at a decent pub, we don't see each other that often, and somehow-(can't remember offhand)- I just had a drink or two with them beforehand. Dare say this arrangement could be called into play some othertime. It was nice to see them and a pleasant change from the routine as the pub isn't centrally located.

One thing you haven't said is if it's a houseparty or at a prebooked venue.

if it's a pre booked party- just ask if they wanted to meet up for a drink nearby beforehand.This would also have the benefit of giving them any cards or presents in person. In that way you're still involved and get to see your friends/family.

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    Does this answer come from personal experience or something you heard? Could you please explain why you think this is a good answer, so that we can see your train of thought? If you're not sure, you can refer to this for more clarification about what we're looking for. – ElizB Aug 6 '18 at 23:44
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If you know of a mutual friend or character in a TV show you both watch who has some strong phobia, you could compare yourself to them and then redirect:

You know how Soandso is deathly afraid of spiders? I'm like that, but with costume parties. I've tried, and I just can't deal with it. But hey, I'd still like to meet up with you. Can I buy you lunch the week after? I'm really looking forward to seeing some pictures.

This should accomplish:

  1. Helping them to better understand that it's a big deal for you and logic or peer pressure isn't going to make a difference (would they expect to talk someone out of an intense fear of spiders?)
  2. Taking the edge off with humor (comparing costume parties to spiders, and very slightly poking fun at yourself)
  3. Don't leave room to immediately argue with your fears. If they interject before you get to your backup offer, just kind of acknowledge it with a "Yeah" or "Uh huh" and then ignore whatever they said as you go on to suggest the alternative meetup.
  4. Shows you don't bear ill will for the choice of a costume party -- in fact, you are actually interested in knowing about it and maybe you objectively think it's a cool idea -- you just don't want to be there.
  5. You still get to see the birthday friend and celebrate.

Adjust details as desired for accuracy (sub in clowns, heights, etc?) and the logistics of meeting up with them.

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