Fancy dresses described/Introduction

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This is the first exclamation on receipt of an invitation to a Fancy Ball, and it is to assist in answering such questions that this volume has been compiled.

It does not purport to be an authority in the matter of costume, for, as a rule, the historical dresses worn on such occasions are lamentably incorrect. Marie Stuart appears in powder; Louis XIV. wears a beard; and Berengaria distended drapery. No one would probably view the national costumes with more curiosity than the peasantry they are intended to portray, although certain broad characteristics of the several countries are maintained by Fancy Ball-goers.

Several hundred characters, which a long and varied experience has proved to be the favourite and most effective, are here described, with every incidental novelty introduced of late years. A glance through these pages will enable readers to choose which will best suit them, and learn how they are to be carried out.

Among the Costumes adapted to BRUNES are Africa, Arab Lady, Arrah-na-Pogue, Asia, Autumn, Bee, Gipsies of various kinds, the Bride of Abydos, Brigand's Wife, Britannia, Buy-a-Broom, Carmen, Cleopatra, Colleen Bawn, Connaught Peasant, Diana, Druidess, Earth, Egyptian, Erin, Esmeralda, Fenella, Fire, Greek, Luti, the Indian Girl, Harvest, Maid of Saragossa, Maritana, Rose of Castille, and Zingari, together with Italian, Spanish, and Oriental dresses.

For FAIR WOMEN, among others, the following are suitable—Arctic Maiden, Air, Bride of Lammermoor, Aurora, White Lady of Avenel, Canada, Canadian Snow Wreath, Danish peasant, Day, Dew, Edith Bellender, Elaine, Fair Maid of Perth, Fairy, Flora, Gabrielle d'Estrées, La Belle Dame sans Merci, Marguerite in Faust, Moonlight, Norwegian costumes, Ophelia, Peace, Polish Peasant, Rainbow, Rowena, Sabrina, Swiss, Schneewittchen, Titania, Twilight, and Water-Nymphs.

The most notable HISTORICAL DRESSES described are Queen Anne, Anne Boleyn, Catherine of Arragon, Catherine Howard, Catherine Parr, Catherine de Medici, Charles I. and his Family, Madame Elizabeth; Elizabeth, Queen of England; Elizabeth of York, the Georgian Period, the James II. Period, Princess de Lamballe, Louis XIII., XIV., XV., XVI. Periods, Marguerite de Valois, Marie Antoinette, Marie Stuart, the Queen's Maries, and Philippa of Hainault.

For ELDERLY LADIES the following costumes are suitable:—Mrs. Balchristie, Griselda Oldbuck, Dowager of Brionne (see large Coloured Illustration), My Grandmother, a Lady of the Olden Time, Night, Puritan, some Vandyke dresses, Quakeress, Mrs. Primrose, wife of the Vicar of Wakefield, Peacock, the Duchess of Orleans, a Maltese Faldette, Mother Hubbard, Mother Shipton, a Sorceress, a Gallician Matron, and some Gainsborough and Sir Joshua Reynolds's dresses.

GENTLEMEN'S FANCY COSTUMES are not included in this volume.[1] The following can, however, with a little ingenuity be arranged at home:—Evening dress of the future, viz., white where it is usually black, and vice versâ, white coat and trousers, black shirt, tie, and collar. Debardeur: loose velvet jacket and short trousers with Maltese buttons, scarf around waist and velvet cap. A clergyman desirous of being present might appear as a French abbé, or as a monk, in a long brown ample robe with wide sleeves, and a cord round the waist; or a Sacconi or Italian mute, in a monk's long white calico dress, with cord about the waist, and a pointed cap over the head and face, having holes for the eyes and mouth. The tall gamekeeper in Pickwick requires only a brown velveteen coat and gilt buttons, corduroy trousers, stout gaiters, and a game-bag slung on the shoulders. An Irish cardriver: green coat patched, brass buttons, brocaded waistcoat, drab breeches with patches, high collar and red tie, blue darned stockings, leather shoes, hat trimmed with green and sprigs of shamrock. The Cure: a blue and white striped calico suit, with high conical cap. A Christy Minstrel: blackened face, woolly wig, enormous collar, extravagant bouquet, long-tailed coat, trousers of striped calico, and banjo. The two Obadiahs: two people dressed alike in the above style. Pierrot, the French clown, large loose trousers and blouse, with frill at throat, made in white calico, a row of coloured rosettes down the front, conical hat; black skull cap, face much painted. Sergeant Buzfuz, in a legal black robe and coif; and the Windsor uniform, with red cloth lapels and cuffs sewn on to an ordinary evening dress-coat,—sometimes, in lieu of red cloth, light blue silk is used. Baker, cook, bookmaker, butler, miller, coachman, crossing-sweeper, also suggest themselves.

SISTERS who desire to appear in costumes which assimilate might choose any of the following: Apple and Pear Blossoms, Sovereign and Shilling, Cinderella's two sisters, Cordelia's sisters, Brenda and Minna Troil, Brunhilda and Kriemhilda, Salt and Fresh Water, the Roses of York and Lancaster, a Circassian Princess and Slave, Music and Painting, the Two Nornas, Lovebirds, Aurora and the Hours, Oranges and Lemons, and Four Sisters as the Seasons.

A Husband and Wife might select Jack and Gill, Cock and Hen, any Kings and Queens, a Wizard and Witch, Night and Morning, or Night and Day.

Fancy Dresses are never more piquante and charming than when worn by children; the several characters in the Nursery Rhymes are admirably adapted for them, and we have given a special selection of dresses for boys and girls in the Appendix, children's fancy balls being on the increase.

For Calico Balls, among others the following are recommended:—Clairette, Fille de Madame Angot, Bo-peep, Mothers Hubbard, Bunch, Shipton, &c., all the several Fish-girls, the dress carried out in striped and plain cottons instead of woollen stuffs; Cabaretière, Five-o'clock-tea, Flower-girls, Flowers, Normandy, and most of the other Peasant Dresses; Polly-put-the-Kettle-on, My pretty Maid, Shepherdesses, Poudré and Watteau costumes, Alphabet, Miss Angel, Scott's and Shakespeare's heroines, Bertrade, Bonbonnière, Queen of Butterflies, Buy-a-Broom, Charity Girl, Chess, La Chocolatière Cinderella, Columbine, Coming-through-the-Rye, Dresden China, Dominoes, Friquette, Germaine, Harvest, Incroyable, Lady-Help, Magpie, Olivia and Sophia Primrose, Rainbow, and One of the Rising Generation.

But it must be borne in mind that the word "calico" is of elastic meaning at these balls, including cotton-backed satin and cotton velvet. Tinsel trimmings replace gold; ribbon is allowed; net takes the place of tulle; and very few people dream of adopting cotton gloves or mittens.

To be properly chaussé and ganté are difficulties at fancy balls. With short dresses the prettiest and most fashionable shoes are worn, either black with coloured heel and bows, or coloured shoes to match the dress, and embroidered, the stockings being of plain colour or stripes. With the Vivandière dress Wellington boots are best.

To avoid glaring inconsistencies, it is well to remember that powder was introduced into England in James I.'s reign, though not very generally worn. It attained the height of its glory in the Georgian period, and in 1795 fell victim to the tax raised by Pitt on hair-powder; those that wore it subsequently were called guinea-pigs, on account of the guinea tax. Periwigs were first mentioned in 1529. High-heeled shoes were not heard of till Elizabeth's reign.

It is uncomfortable to dance without gloves, so consistency yields to convenience. For most Peasant dresses mittens are best; but when gloves are worn they should be as little conspicuous as possible. For the Poudré costumes, long mittens and long embroidered gloves are admissible. Gloves were never heard of till the 10th and 11th centuries, and not much worn till the 14th; still, what can pretty Berengaria do if she wishes to dance and does not care to appear ungloved?

With regard to Hair-dressing. For Classic costumes the hair is generally gathered together in a knot at the nape of the neck, and bound with a fillet, a few curls sometimes escaping at the back when the knot is carried higher up at the back of the head. For Modern Greek costumes, loose curls fall over the shoulders, or the hair hangs in two long plaits. For Italian, the two plaits are tied with coloured ribbon, and often entwined with coins or beads, or the plaits are twisted up into a coil, thrust through with pins. For an Egyptian costume, the hair is flat in front, with ringlets at the back. The Turkish women plait their hair in innumerable tresses, entwining them with coins and jewels; and round flat curls appear on the side of the head. At fancy balls two long plaits are generally adopted in this character, but it would be more correct to add to the number. For Scotch dresses the hair is worn flat in front, and curled at the back; for an Irish girl the hair has a coil at the nape of the neck. With regard to the German Peasantry; about Augsburg they wear the hair flat to the face, and a loose chignon at the back. At Coblentz and Baden, it is plaited and tied with ribbons; and near Dresden and elsewhere, where the peasantry sell their hair, a close-fitting cap hides all deficiencies. In Norway, the women wear the hair plaited and pinned close to the head, or allow the plaits to hang down. The Swedes turn it over a cushion, and let it fall in curls. The Poles dress it in two long plaits, the Russians braid it round the head. Marguerite, in Faust, wears two pendant plaits tied with ribbon. A Vivandière has hers rolled in a coil, or in plaits: Britannia, floating on the shoulders, like Undine, Winter, Snow, Fairies, &c., but in their case it should be powdered with frosting, applied by shaking the powder well over, after damping with thin white starch. A Normandy Peasant should have the hair flat on the forehead, and in broad looped-up plaits at the back. A Puritan has a close coiffure, and a coil or short chignon is best beneath the cap. For Ophelia, it should float on the shoulders, entwined with flowers. The hair is worn hanging down the back for Berengaria, Gipsy, Druidess, Elaine, Fairy, Fenella, Peace, République Française, &c.

With regard to Historical Characters, up to Queen Elizabeth's time the hair was parted in the middle, and either allowed to float on the shoulders or was bound up under a coif; Elizabeth introduced frizzing and padding. For Marie Stuart it should be turned over side-rolls, so as to fill the vacuum beneath the velvet head-dress. During the time of the Stuarts, a crop of curls was worn over the forehead, and long ringlets at the back. As people desire to look their best at fancy balls, it is advisable to adapt the style required as much as possible to the usual method of dressing the front hair, leaving the more marked change for the back.

With regard to Powdering, it is best, if possible, not to have recourse to wigs, they are heavy and unbecoming. It is far better to powder the hair itself, using violet powder, and plenty of pomatum before applying it; it entails, however, a great deal of trouble in subsequently removing the powder. The head may be covered with a thick soap lather. The powder is applied thus: A puff well filled is held above the head, jerking the elbow with the other hand. The process should be repeated over and over again, and it is incredible the amount of powder that ought to be used to produce a satisfactory result. An easy mode of dressing the hair for powder is to part it across the head from ear to ear, turning the front over a high cushion, making the back into a long loose chignon, with a few marteaux or rolled curls behind the cushion. Sometimes the roll in front is replaced by a series of marteaux placed diagonally. Sometimes the centre-piece only is rolled over the cushion, with marteaux at the sides. Sometimes the back has four marteaux on either side, put diagonally, with others behind the ear, or a bunch of loose curls fall at the back. All this may be made easier by having false marteaux and curls, which have a far better effect than a wig. It is, however, very much the fashion to powder the hair as it is worn now, viz., with curls in front and a coil or twist at the back, a style which accords well with the dress worn when powder was in fashion.

The giving of Fancy Balls requires more pre-arrangement than an ordinary entertainment. The men-servants are often put into the costumes of Family Retainers of old days, the women dressed as Waiting-maids of the 18th century; the Band also don fancy attire.

The Decorations should be arranged with some regard to the many vivid colours worn by the company. Chinese lanterns hung in passages and balconies have a good effect, and the flowers should not be of too brilliant a hue; green foliage is the best background.

Occasionally the hostess elects that her guests shall appear in costumes of a particular period, and Poudré Balls find many patrons. Under these circumstances the lady guests only wear powder with ordinary evening dress, the gentlemen making no change from their usual attire, save perhaps that white waistcoats and button-holes are enjoined.

A marked feature at most Fancy Balls is a specially-arranged Quadrille. The choice is a large one. The following have from time to time been given:—Watteau, Poudré, Noah's Ark, Cracker, Constellation, Domino, Hobby-Horse, Seasons, Bouquet, Bird, Louis Quinze; Shepherds and Shepherdesses, when both ladies and gentlemen wear the hair powdered and costumes associated with these characters; a Louis Quinze Hunting Quadrille in the hunting dress of that period; a Holbein Quadrille in the Tudor dress; a Quadrille ot All Nations, embracing all nationalities, the ladies and gentlemen of the same countries dancing together, the gentlemen occasionally carrying the national flag; Scotch, Irish, King and Queen, Army and Navy, Flowers of the Year, Venetian, Vandyke, Pack of Cards, Fairy Tale, Joe Willett and Dolly Varden, Puritan and Cavalier. The time when such quadrilles are danced, and the partners, are all pre-arranged. A Singing Quadrille, in which the heroes and heroines of the nursery rhymes wear appropriate dresses and sing as they dance, is to be specially recommended for Children's fancy balls. Country dances are being resuscitated for costume balls; the Maltese country dance, the Swedish dance, Sir Roger de Coverley, the Tempête, Morris dance, ribbon dance, and others. The most effective pre-arranged dance is a well-performed Minuet or the stately Pavane, the See-saw Waltz, the Staffordshire Jig, Le Carillon de Dunkerque, Ribbon Dance, Mazurka, a Highland Schottische, a Norwegian dance, a Polonaise in Watteau Costume, or the Cachuca. At juvenile fancy balls dancing is not, as a rule, the sole amusement. Conjurors, Ventriloquists, Christy Minstrels, a Punch and Judy Show, and a magic lantern, please the little ones, but possibly nothing so much as a Horn of Plenty, out of which a liberal number of presents are distributed, or the old familiar Christmas Tree, or a Fairy Pool, where the children fish for presents; and the Brandy-ball Man (one of the guests with a tray of sweets), who distributes goodies to the children.

Fancy Balls are said to have been brought over to this country by a German lady, Mrs. Teresa Cornelys, at the end of the last century, when they were held at Carlisle House, Soho. Lady Waldegrave, Lady Pembroke, and the Duchess of Hamilton were among the beauties. But then, as now, the fashions of the day asserted their sway in the costumes of old times. Fashionable materials are used, however inappropriate; when crinoline was the mode, even the peasants' dresses were slightly distended; during the reign of the jersey, elastic silk served for the bodices of Gipsies, Folly, and many others; and material tinted with aniline dyes are used for historical raiment of very early periods. A march round which sometimes takes the form of a Polonaise shows off the dresses.

There is much in a name,—A Coquette, a Lady of the Past Century, Petite Sole à la Normandie, the Bounding Ball of Babylon, His Picture in Chalk, a Duchess of the Next Century, &c., have attracted attention to very mediocre costumes ere this.

Any popular play or opera will be pretty sure to originate the most fashionable costumes of each season, or possibly some pretty picture. Miss Greenaway's charming sketches suggest many of the quaintest dresses at children's fancy balls; and costumes of the early part of this century and the latter part of the last, are much worn, possibly owing to the attention now turned to what is known as artistic dressing. The styles of the sixteenth century,—flowing skirts, low square bodices, and puffed sleeves richly broidered, owe their resuscitation to the same cause.

It behoves those who really desire to look well to study what is individually becoming to themselves, and then to bring to bear some little care in the carrying out of the dresses they select, if they wish their costumes to be really a success. There are few occasions when a woman has a better opportunity of showing her charms to advantage than at a Fancy Ball.


  1. They are published in a separate work, entitled "Gentlemen's Fancy Dress: How to Choose It," published by Wyman & Sons, 74-76, Great Queen Street.