July 15, 2024


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History of Fancy Dress

History of Fancy Dress

The tradition of dressing up for certain occasions has been around for many centuries in many cultures, all around the world. What the British refers to as “fancy dress” in British English, the Americans call it “costumes”. Therefore, a fancy dress party is more or less the same as a costume party. The Victorian era witnessed the popularity of fancy dress parties – Queen Victoria herself enjoyed dressing up. Fancy dress parties evolved from the 15th century Italian masquerade balls. These balls were public festivities that were closely associated with the traditional Venetian Carnival. They were essentially held for the upper class.

This trend swept through Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, reaching London in the 18th century. In no time, colonies in the new world were experiencing their own type of masquerade gatherings. Since masquerade parties were infamously associated with immoral behavior carried out behind a mask, the trend of masquerade parties started to looked down upon. By the 19th century, masquerade parties/balls became passé. This was when people started to discard the masks and focused more on dressing up as a character of a particular era.

Historical and royal figures, literary personalities, celebrities, characters from books and poems were among those on which people based their costumes. Characters such as Oliver Twist, Shakespeare, Count Dracula, Romeo and Juliet were popular models to dress up like. The costumes of indigenous cultures also became popular at a later stage. By the turn of the 19th century, dressing up in fancy costumes became the trend for parties and celebrations, birthdays being the most popular. Schools even carried out annual fancy costume competitions. In olden times, ladies in particular preferred to wear colorful, complex, intricate and elaborate costumes that were self-made. These costumes would then be altered accordingly to make another costume for another occasion, or transformed into something that can be used for regular wear.

As the trend of fancy dress parties became popular, stores dedicated to selling and renting costumes opened up. Today, the internet has abundant sites offering an endless variety of costumes to help you choose your perfect fancy dress costume for any theme or occasion. With the dawn of the 20th century, costume parties became more casual, discarding the elaborate costumes of the past eras. The parties, however, became more raucous, whereby funny and iconic costumes became the trend; e.g. men dressing up as mermaids, women dressing up as men with moustaches and beards.

As can be seen, every century exhibited its own style of costumes that has been colorful, elaborative and extravagant. Today, fancy dress costumes have been on the receiving end of protests against the vulgarness and over self-indulgence depicted in these costumes, especially by the younger generation. But no matter how fancy dress parties are received, after more than six centuries, no governing body has yet succeeded in putting an end to it.