"And yet here he was, if one could credit one's senses, about to take part in a fancy-dress ball, a form of entertainment notoriously a testing experience for the toughest. And he was attending that fancy-dress ball, mark you—not, like every other well-bred Englishman, as a Pierrot, but as Mephistopheles—this involving, as I need scarcely stress, not only scarlet tights but a pretty frightful false beard."
~ Right Ho, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse
|via gravesandghouls tumblr, Victorian costumes c. 1880s (Source: vintagegal)|
|Fancy Dress, 1874|
Fancy dress costumes were very popular in the Victorian era, Fashionable Reader. There were follies, masquerades, fancy dress balls, not to mention a variety of other events that might call for a costume of some kind or another. I feature a fancy dress ball in the Finishing School books and I'm contemplating what might happen if Lord Akeldama decided to throw one. However the Victorian approach to fancy dress was quirky to say the least. Here are a few examples...
|folly costume via realhistoricalpatterns tumblr|
Classic jester costume, also the domino were both, extremely popular in the Victorian era.
via Bizarre Victorian fact of the day…
A traditional Halloween custom which was practised across Britain (particularly in rural areas) in the Victorian period was for groups of people (of all ages) to don strange costumes and go door-to-door in the hopes of receiving food or gifts, or of causing a bit of mischief. This custom had a huge number of regional variations. On the Shetland Islands the ‘skeklers’ wore tall pointy hats and voluminous costumes made of straw. In Montgomeryshire in Wales men dressed themselves as ‘gwrachod’ (an ancient Welsh hag-like monster) by putting on ragged clothes, sheepskins and masks. They went through their neighbourhood frightening children and being rude to adults. Young people in Glamorgan cross-dressed and went from house to house singing riddles, while ‘guisers’ in Scotland with masked, blackened, or painted faces chanted rhymes like:
Tramp, tramp, the boys are marching
We are the guisers at the door,
If you dinna let us in, we will bash yer windows in,
And you’ll never see the guisers any more.
|gardener costume via realhistoricalpatterns tumblr|
Aristocratic Victorians loved to play the poor, particularly the romanticized country poor. In addition to gardeners, milk maids, peasant girls, shepherds and shepherdesses were quite popular.
|page costume via realhistoricalpatterns tumblr|
There was also and interesting take on cross dressing that occasionally appeared. There's a certain romantic notion and of the beautiful page boy, almost gender neutral and certainly gender bending that made this archetypal character open season for men or women. Maxfield Parrish capitalized on this with some of his work using a female model for many of his pages and princes etc...
|rose costume via realhistoricalpatterns tumblr|
Objects were also open season. And an idea I kind of love. Above we see a young lady dressed as a rose garden, or rose bouquet. Bellow is one dressed as a... waste basket. I may have to put that into one of my stories.
|waste basket costume via realhistoricalpatterns tumblr|
|via eccentric victorian on tumblr|
|“Scrap Book” 1890 National Gallery Victoria|
|“The Dirigible” via OMG That Dress tumblr|
Other cultures were also popular, as were historical figures. Always keeping in mind the Victorian silhouette. You'll not that while masks were popular grotesque make up was not. Victorians might theme a masquerade to a particular place or time period or even a famous author, Shakespeare characters, for example, might be a theme.
|Fancy Dress Costume Charles Fredrick Worth, 1870 The Metropolitan Museum of Art|
|via weirdvintage-tumblr Bird girls of Szegeden, Hungary, 1880s (via Vintage Photo)|
|via Old Photos & Bacon☣ @photosandbacon|
I have a lot of fun imagining how a costume party in my steampunk Victorian era might look. Can you imagine people coming dressed as trains, or dirigibles? Or werewolves or vampires for that matter. I may have to write a short story about this at some point.
- Fancy Dress Costumes c. 1800s
- France in the Year 2000
- Fancy Dress 1897: the Duchess of Devonshire’s Diamond Jubilee Ball
|White Witch Costume 1885 Kerry Taylor Auctions|
|“Folly” fancy dress costume 1890 The Los Angeles County Museum of Art|
And something a little more to my personal taste...
|Halloween Bombshell Veronica Lake|
|Halloween Bombshell, Myrna Loy|
Myrna was best known for her role as Nora Charles
in the 1930's The Thin Man movies
Retro Rack is also on facebook where I post additional images and fashion thoughts.
You can also visit the following shopping lists: Travel Dork, My Steampunk, My Wardrobe.