Hints on Inexpensive Historical Fancy-dress: 1896



In large cities, character dresses may be procured from the costumer, but are an expensive luxury. In small towns they cannot be had at all, and those who desire to attend a fancy-dress party must perforce construct their own costumes.

It is a mistake to choose historical dresses, for without every detail is perfect, the effect is entirely spoiled. However, with the aid of books of costumes and a few inexpensive materials, even this may be happily accomplished.

The reigns of Louis XV. and XVI. were prolific of splendid styles of costuming, and the gowns of this period are especially adapted for such purposes. Pompadour silks are so cheap nowadays as to be within the reach of almost every purse; however, the pretty cretonnes, flowered sateens and calicoes may be used with excellent effect. A charming Pompadour gown is inexpensively fashioned as follows: Use a breadth of pale pink sateen, covered with puffs of white organdie or lace, for the front of the skirt; get cretonne in pale blue, strewn with pink flowers, and make a full ungored skirt, which must be fastened to the front, and caught up on the hips to form panniers; the waist should be long and pointed, cut square-necked and edged with lace; the sleeves are flat, reaching to the elbow, and finished with deep ruffles of lace. The hair must be drawn back over a cushion and powdered; an enormous hat, loaded with flowers and feathers may be worn.

A Directory costume is of eccentric and exaggerated style, and made with not too full a skirt of gay silk or sateen, and a mannish coat turned back with wide lappels of faille or moire, and ornamented with enormous buttons; a voluminous Robespierre jabot of lace fills up the front; the hat is an elaborate affair adorned with nodding plumes and floating ribbons. A long cane with a gold or silver head and a knot of ribbon is held in the hand.

The Empire gown, with its clinging skirts of gauze or silk, its décolleté bodice, belted beneath the arms with a broad sash or a girdle of ribbon or metal, is picturesque and easily fashioned; the sleeves are short and met by long gloves; the hair is worn high, curled in front and stuck through with jewelled pins; low heelless slippers complete the toilet.

A Spanish costume is an easy thing to manage; it consists of a full skirt of silk or colored cambric, reaching well above the ankles and covered with flounces of black lace; red, pink, or yellow are the most characteristic colors; the waist is pointed and finished with a girdle of gold-embroidered black velvet or a short Spanish jacket; ropes of pearls, gold beads, or strings of coral encircle the throat; a veil of black lace, with a red or yellow rose stuck just above the ear, gives a coquettish finish to the costume. A tambourine is held in the hand.

A Greek costume is admirably adapted for certain styles, and is to be commended for its inexpensiveness; ten yards of cheese-cloth in cream, white, or a pale color are necessary; the cloth must be cut in suitable lengths, and each breadth twisted and wrung out as if wringing clothes; after being well twisted, it is shaken and the process repeated; this imparts the soft, clinging effect noticeable in Greek statuary, causing the drapery to hang in classic folds; a key-border pattern may edge it; a narrow belt of gold is passed about the waist and a fillet of ribbon or a gold band confines the hair, which is knotted low in Psyche style.

The peasant dresses of France and Italy are easily made. A Roman girl may be dressed in a red or blue woollen skirt trimmed with several rows of gold braid, with a white lawn waist very full, and confined by a pointed girdle of black velvet; a flat piece of pasteboard covered with a bright Roman scarf adorns the head, the ends flowing behind.

Flower-dresses are dainty and picturesque, and the pansy in yellows and shaded purples is exceedingly effective; the skirts may be of several shades of purple tulle or tarlatan, and the bodice of yellow velvet; the rose has a pink skirt with leaf points of green falling over it; the daisy has a full skirt of white India silk with a yellow corsage.

A butterfly and wasp ball is a novel idea, and one not very difficult to carry out. The bodies of the butterflies and wasps may be of different shades of brown or gray velvet, which represents the bodice in the girls; for the boys, Jersey jackets of brown or closely adjusted pourpoints of velvet may be used. For example, the wasp has a skirt of pale yellow and a pointed bodice of golden brown veined with gold color. A blue-and-gold butterfly, with glittering wings dotted with iridescent spangles, makes a most brilliant and becoming costume; tiny golden wings may be worn in the hair.

The wings may be made of a light wire framework covered with gauze and embroidered in tinsel and spangles. A butterfly ball is particularly adapted for a children’s party.

Godey’s Lady’s Book January 1896

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Since it is that time of year when Mrs Daffodil’s American readers will be attending masquerade balls, it seems appropriate to discuss the subject of costuming. Mrs Daffodil is horrified by the shoddiness and distressing scantiness of the costumes one finds at the shops. Some ingenuity is required to avoid causing a scandal by dressing as a “Sexy Lady Berserker.” One mother of Mrs Daffodil’s acquaintance used to outfit her children in historical costumes made from jumble sale or charity shop finds. Her daughter was a very successful “Princess Elizabeth” in a red velvet gown made from a “Frederick’s of Hollywood” jumpsuit and some curtain brocade. Mrs Daffodil understands that time constraints may preclude home-made costumes, for children and adults, but she implores her readers to resist the “Naughty Florence Nightingale” costume.

Please see all entries under the “Fancy Dress” category for fancy-dress fads and fancies.

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.



One thought on “Hints on Inexpensive Historical Fancy-dress: 1896

  1. Pingback: The Mutilated Sportsman and the Phrenological Bust: Gentlemen’s Fancy Dress: 1882 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

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