Breeches and Petticoats: Cross-dressing Fancy Dress

boygirlcostume

A BOY-GIRL FANCY DRESS COSTUME

There is hardly a fancy dress ball given that some man does not bedeck himself in the finery of a woman and that a girl does not appear in the more or less modern habiliments of a man, but it is quite certain that such a costume as this is not often seen at an American fancy ball. It is an ingenious boy-girl costume, one half or side of the person being clothed in man’s attire and the other half in a girl’s. The idea is carried out to the minutest detail, even to the man’s glove and walking stick on one side, to a woman’s white lisle glove and a sunshade on the other. On one side of the head rests a man’s soft hat and on the other a neatly coiffured arrangement of feminine hair. Popular Mechanics, Volume 11, 1909

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil supposes that an alienist somewhere would have something to say about how the transgressive (a professional term for “naughty”) aspects of fancy-dress and masquerading encourages ladies and gentlemen to disguise themselves as the opposite sex in order to act out their forbidden desires. All tosh. One doesn’t need fancy dress to go off the rails, as one may observe at our police courts, which are packed with criminals in decidedly un-fancy dress. What the alienists forget is the pure pleasure of wearing a costume. What lady would not want to be a bold pirate or a swashbuckling cavalier at Hallowe’en? And what gentleman who secretly yearns to wear lady’s underthings would not want to be a saucy milkmaid or Little Bo Peep? The young man pictured above has chosen the best of both worlds.

Another example:

Amongst a variety of others, there were two very singular Masks at the Masquerade at the Opera House, on Monday night, viz. A Lady in a very large pair of breeches that reached from her feet to the top of her head, where the waistband was fastened, and crowned with a prodigious bunch of Ostrich feathers; and a Gentleman in a petticoat that covered his whole figure, with a ducal coronet ornamented with jewels on his head. This petticoat and breeches afforded much diversion to the company throughout the whole of the evening’s entertainment.  Virginia Gazette [Williamsburg, VA] 24 June 1775

A traditional licence is usually granted by the authorities for the innocent amusements of Hallowe’en. One wonders why the young man in the following was charged with masquerading as a woman on such a holiday. His costume must have been seductive in the extreme to attract the attention of so many followers, as well as that of the police.

DRESSED AS WOMAN HAILS HALLOWE’EN

Sailor of Cruiser Chester Attracts Crowd and Is Jugged.

Fully 500 lads celebrating Hallowe’en followed a sailor from the U.S.S. Chester, dressed in feminine attire, through the streets of Charlestown last night, cheering and yelling at the top of their voices. Patrolmen Norton and Horgan saw the ‘woman’ at the head of the mob and placed ‘her’ under arrest charged with disturbing the peace.

When the ‘woman’ arrived at the police station, Lieut. Ringer summoned the matron to search the prisoner. As soon as the matron had removed the large picture hat, it was discovered that the supposed woman was a man, giving the name of Conrad Brazenberg of the U.S.S. Chester.

An additional charge of masquerading as a woman will be placed against him by Officers Norton and Horgan in the Charlestown court this morning.

A large number of sailors from the ships were given liberty last night, as the ships leave the yard tomorrow. Several of them were locked up charged with drunkenness. Boston [MA] Journal 1 November 1910: p. 14

In this case dressing as a boy for a masquerade led to domestic trouble:

Lending Trousers Causes Trouble

Husband Furnishes Woman Friend With Masquerade Costume

Wife Demands Return at Party and Starts Hostilities

Marion, Ind., Nov. 7 C.E. Beatty loaned a pair of his trousers to a woman friend, who wore them to a masquerade party. Mrs. Beatty learned of it, went to the party and found her husband’s trousers covering the graceful form of a pretty young woman.

Mrs. Beatty tore the mask from the face of the young woman, pulled her hair, scratched her face and demanded an immediate surrender of the trousers. She then returned home and told Mr. Beatty what she thought of him. Beatty is said to have sworn. Mrs. Beatty filed a charge of profanity against her husband. He was arrested, pleaded guilty, and was fined $12.30, which he paid. Tucson [AZ] Daily Citizen 7 November 1905: p. 1

Jane Asher’s Fancy Dress book continues the tradition with a variation on the theme with this costume: “A Pair of the Same Suit.”

pair of the same suit

Mrs Daffodil reminds her readers to put safety first this Hallowe’en. Ladies, do not borrow the clothing of married gentlemen. Gentlemen, do practice walking in those high heels before trying to dance in them or a spill, a torn frock, and a nasty sprain may result. One might also wish to avoid the streets of Charlestown if wearing an inflammatory picture hat.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

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3 thoughts on “Breeches and Petticoats: Cross-dressing Fancy Dress

  1. Pingback: “Madame says your waist is ready, sir.” A Modiste Serves a Gentleman: 1891 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      A very telling observation! Perhaps a commentary on the “traditional” woman set against the “modern” and “up-and-coming” young man. At the time that this costume was created, there was much tension (as there continued to be) between opportunities for women and their historic role as Man’s help-meet in the home. It is strange how a simple fancy-dress costume can epitomise this conflict. Many thanks for pointing this out.
      Mrs Daffodil

      Like

      Reply

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