Dressing Up, Dressing Down

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dress 1949.30/8
dress photo 1949.30/8
2007.57 dress
suit 1972.21/2

Appearing in public, dressed up in some form of disguise has been a popular social activity since the sixteenth century if not earlier. Fancy dress balls and parties enabled the wearer to experiment with clothing, usually retaining the essentials of contemporary fashionable dress, but overlaying this with symbols pointing to different cultures, personalities or items. This yellow silk outfit, trimmed in scarlet, was worn by a woman for a ball in the 1890s, where she daringly assumed the character of a "lady brigand", carrying mock pistols and a rifle. The wearer was proud enough of her costume to have a studio portrait taken, which is included below. At about the same date, another middle class woman, wife of the Mayor of Stockport, wore a fancy costume to host a children's bazaar.

Apart from characters like this, fancy costumes could represent an earlier period in history, such as the pale blue silk outfit for a young man, also shown below, which was a mid eighteenth century interpretation of mid seventeenth century "Cavalier" clothing. In more modern periods, especially the heyday of fancy dress parties in the 1920s and 30s, people often chose to dress either as an exotic nation such as Egypt or China, or as an everyday item such as a playing card, a sunflower or even a television. Today there has been an enormous revival of fancy costumes for children, often based on characters from popular books or films, and retailed in shops like Tesco and Marks and Spencer.

Full item descriptions:

"fancy dress outfit" [1949.30/8]
"fancy dress suit" [1972.21/2]
"fancy dress outfit" [2007.57]

Related Themes:

Dressing Up, Dressing Down
19th Century Women's Fashion