History of Fancy Dress

Although it is not known precisely where the phrase ‘fancy dress’ actually comes from, we can trace the beginnings of costume wearing to the masked balls of the 18thcentury in aristocratic England. These balls were very elaborate affairs, and were restricted very much to the aristocracy and ‘nouveau riche’ of the day. Often the costumes were very elaborate, but sometimes a simple ‘masquerade mask’ was worn in front of the eyes. Of course this kind of ‘dressing up’ was only practised by a very small percentage of the population, as the cost of costumes was prohibitively expensive for working class people.

During the Victorian era dressing up became more popular, and whilst it was generally the preserve of the upper and middle classes, towards the end of the century more and more working class folk also began to dress up in costume. Of course, for this particular class the costumes were pretty ‘rough and ready’ affairs and were home-made using left over scraps of material.

The popularity of fancy dress continued to rise during the first half of the twentieth century, and started to become far more common during the 1940s. During the 1970s in the UK, fancy dress parties became a far more popular way of celebrating birthdays and special events. However, the cost of buying costumes was still prohibitively expensive and so the vast majority of party goers would hire their outfits from local stores. Whilst the quality of such costumes was generally very good, the range of costumes available to consumers was very limited.

This all changed in the 1990s with the rise of globalisation, and the ready availability of cheap costumes manufactured in the Far East. This coincided with the rise of online shopping, and these two factors together meant that, for the first time, consumers could buy a wide range of fancy dress costumes at very affordable prices. Suddenly it was just as cheap to buy a costume as it was to hire one!

Since then the fancy dress industry in the UK has grown exponentially, driven partly by the cheaper costumes but also the growing popularity of events such as Halloween. Indeed Halloween has become such big business now that it has generated its own industry in the UK.