There are valid reasons for loathing New Year’s Eve. It’s overhyped. It’s a lot of pressure. And if you make it out of your house, you’ll find it’s amateur hour everywhere – a night for people who are unaccustomed to parties and nightclubs and who thus inevitably go overboard before midnight strikes. Everything is twice as expensive, twice as crowded, and you will wait in the cold until 4 AM to get a taxi home.
But there are valid reasons to love it, too. Think of a dress that hangs, waiting, on a hanger in your wardrobe. You have no reason to wear it. It’s sparkly, maybe, too much for a wedding, and every time you take it out you end up putting it back. Maybe it’s not a dress: it’s a jumpsuit. When you bought it, you told your friends, “It’s so not me, but…” And then you see it. New Year’s Eve. A chance – a window – a glimmer of candlelight and fireworks and glitter in the bleak midwinter. A last hurrah. Tonight the dress is you, if you want it to be.
What is the ideal New Year’s Eve? It must be somewhat fraught. There needs to be an element of the unpredictable. The structure for potential drama is already built-in – there’s a ticking clock, a countdown, an easy way to raise the stakes. This is why it’s perfect fodder for soap operas and trashy movies. In 2003, The OC exploited this to their advantage, setting the scene by having Summer Roberts declare first that, “The way you spend New Year’s Eve is the way you spend the rest of your year”. Thus the night becomes pivotal, a chance for love and the road not taken for Marissa and the gang, but also a vehicle for troubled expectations and disappointment. Where will you be as the clock finishes ticking and Finley Quaye’s Dice plays? Will the right person run through the door for you in time? Or will you be left alone when the golden confetti drops, pooling in your non-alcoholic mojito?
Aged 14 I watched that episode and lapped it up. I had yet to be to a New Year’s Eve party that wasn’t just a bunch of teenagers listening to music in someone’s attic. I had yet to get dressed up, to be handed a glass of champagne on arrival, had yet to really worry about who I might kiss at midnight. I had yet to be disappointed, too.
It came eventually. There were dresses bought in the January sales. There were sequins, and shredded tulle skirts and brightly coloured tights. Boob tubes and sickly sweet perfume, tiny polka dotted handbags and new MAC eyeshadows. There were hopes of transformation, basically: the sincere, teenage optimism that one night, if executed properly, could change your whole life. I suppose it could. It generally didn’t, but it didn’t stop us. I remember getting ready with a load of schoolfriends who had gotten blow-dries – proper blow-dries, from a professional hairdresser, with thick beautiful curls – for a house-party in the suburbs. And then the house-party itself: 40 teenagers skulking around a kitchen, drinking cans of Heineken. The weight of expectation was stifling, and yet it was also part of the magic.
I learned how to lean into it as I got older. Later there were secondhand fur coats and tequila shots and glitter smeared across cheekbones. Ripped tights and loud music and calling in sick to retail jobs. New Year’s Eve taught me about glamour in a way I didn’t get to learn otherwise: that it was simply about letting go. The night was never what it was supposed to be – the party to end all parties, the DJ playing bangers like the world was about to end and we would all go out swinging. There was the year we spent wandering around the city centre because even the unglamorous pub was too full to get into. We sat under a clocktower and still couldn’t figure out when midnight really was. But in retrospect each year seems to have been a success, even the ones that weren’t.
So, perhaps the ideal doesn’t exist. Even the televised variety shows are filmed weeks in advance to accommodate the schedules of celebrity guests. Imagine a studio full of tired, dressed-up people toasting midnight with supermarket prosecco at 9.45 PM on a Wednesday evening. Perhaps New Year’s Eve can’t ever have the transformative element we assign to it as teenagers, feeding off TV and movies that make adult life seem dramatic and sophisticated. But is it possible to preserve some of what I once loved about it?
Sometimes I listen to the songs I loved as a teenager when I get ready to go out now, ten years later, in a flat I can call my own. I wait and see if they can make me feel like I did on New Year’s Eves in years gone by: giddy with excitement and the infinite possibilities there lay within. I know that much has changed. Am I still the same woman? I still love wearing something glittery to a party in a crowded kitchen, dancing on the tiled floor with a can of beer in my hand. But does the strike of midnight still hold some magical power over me? Can I conjure it?
If I can, it will be done through the clothes. I know the parts of me that have changed. I am smarter now, have seen more things and made more decisions and learned from hurt and from disappointment. That’s what happens when time passes, which is, after all, what we celebrate when we link arms and cheer at midnight on the first of January. But the parts of me that are the same are the parts that love sequins and velvet, love dressing up for no real reason. Love the hope and glamour contained within them, the gleeful abandon that follows, the reason why we do it all every year, even after last year’s torrential rain or onset of bronchitis or appearance of an ex-flame. It’s the brief respite from the rigours of reality – the formula by which our days and lives must inevitably unfurl.
In the morning things are always different. They have to be different: there is only so long you can wear the sequined dress before it’s late, or early, and you have to take it off to sleep. You hang it up again. You wipe the glitter off your face. In the morning you can face reality again. The charm will be gone, the infinite possibilities replaced perhaps by a pounding headache or a sick stomach. Resolutions will be made, as a way of bolstering the self against existential angst, but now is not the time to reflect or to make big decisions. You have the rest of the year to deal with all that.
Ana Kinsella is the co-founder of Layers Podcast. Listen to the first episode, on glamour, online now.