Tag Archives: fancy dress balls

The Head-Dress Party: 1904-1927

"Snow-Queen" wig and crown, c. 1950. A theatrical costume. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O106041/theatre-costume-kirsta-george/

“Snow-Queen” wig and crown, c. 1950. A theatrical costume. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O106041/theatre-costume-kirsta-george/


For a head-dress party ask each guest to dress the hair in some fancy way. The men dress in Washington, Jefferson and other wigs noted in history, while the ladies fix their locks according to noted beauties, queens, and others. Strings of pearls, tiaras, and jewels make a beautiful display. Conventional evening dress is worn in most instances, save where a ruff or frill is added to heighten the effect of the headgear. A prize is offered for the best head-dress. The minuet makes a pretty dance to finish the evening. Novel Suggestions for Social Occasions, Paul Pierce, 1907

Hallowe’en was not the only occasion for a head-dress party.


Christmas wouldn’t seem real without parties, would it? One of the jolliest you can possibly give is the Fancy Headdress Party, and if you can persuade mother to help with it, you and your guests are sure to have a wonderful time.

In one corner of each invitation card yon might paint a little cocked hat; this will give your guests some idea of the kind of party it is to be.

On the great day you must have ready lots of sheets of different coloured crepe paper —be sure to get the non-inflammable variety; then there won’t be so much danger of your setting yourselves alight if you venture too near the Christmas tree candles.

You’ll also need several pairs of old blunt-pointed scissors (one pair between two children), a few little jars of paste, and lots and lots of ordinary pins.

When all the guests are assembled, you must pair them off; give every couple a supply of papers, and explain that each child must make a head-dress for his or her partner. Allow about a quarter of an hour, or a little longer, for the competition; when time is up, ring a bell as a sign that everyone must stop work.

All the head-dresses must be kept on during tea—you’ve no idea how jolly everyone will look, wearing some gay and absurd head-dress. It will make a splendid start to the party, and is a very good way of getting shy children to know each other.

1907 fancy-dress head-dresses The Evening Star [Washington, DC] 19 January 1907: p. 4

1907 fancy-dress head-dresses: Princess, Man’s Hat, Turkish, Automobile Girl, Spanish Girl The Evening Star [Washington, DC] 19 January 1907: p. 4

After tea, comes the judging; and perhaps daddy or uncle will help you with this. There will be one prize for the most original head-dress, and another for the one which best suits its wearer, and finally, a prize to be won by the child who guesses correctly what most of the head-dresses are supposed to represent. Papers and pencils will be needed for this last competition. And now for a few ideas for the headdresses. One of the easiest and most effective would be that of a Rajah. For this, two lengths of coloured paper, say emerald green and red or orange, should be loosely twisted together and wound round the head, with the ends tucked in and secured with pins; a fringed “feather” ornament could be stuck on to the front as a finishing touch. Another good idea would be to make one like an Egyptian lady wears—with woven bands round the head, and great discs of contrasting hued paper to go over the ears. “Jewels” can be cut out of different coloured paper and pasted on with very good effect. A Dutch cap of white paper would look very pretty, while a chef’s cap or a dunce’s cocked hat, might be made by the younger children.

A mediaeval lady’s cone-shaped headdress, with long hanging ends, will be easy to manage; so will big flower hats such as poppies, sun-flowers, dahlias and roses.

In fact, it is surprising how much you can do with coloured paper once you start—and you will probably find that the child who says: “Oh, I’m sure I couldn’t make anything,” will be the one to fashion the best head-dress of all! Just try one of these parties, and see. Auckland Star, 24 December 1927: p. 3


One imagines that this windmill hat–part of a “Moulin Rouge” fancy-dress costume–would be ideal for a head-dress party. http://europeanafashion.eu/record/a/f520eae436196aa36b5e9082511918262ecd5435d2bbb911f7d1dbb3aec6c14e


Society Women in Ordinary Ball Costumes, But Wearing Novel Makeup of Hair.

London, Feb. 13. Altogether the feature of the week was the amusing and picturesque headdress party given by Mr. and Lady Fedorovna Stuart, at 18 Portman square, the sine qua non of which was that all the guests had to wear fancy headgear, an exception being made only in the case of the Duke and Duchess of Connaught.

Undoubtedly the most becoming and most effective costume was that worn by the hostess herself. With a beautifully made white muslin dress and a blue sash she wore a high hat of white muslin and lace, trimmed with an edging of lace around the brim. Her hair was beautifully coiffured and powdered with gray.

Mrs. George Cornwallis West caused great amusement when she arrived. She had donned a blond wig like that worn by Marguerite with long plaits, which completely changed her appearance. Her husband was completely disguised under a coal black wig and mustache.

Mrs. George Keppel’s headdress was very novel. It was a wig of the Louis XVI period, made in the palest green blue, with one long curl falling down the neck. In this novel wig was fastened a large blue and silver bat, with electric eyes. Her dress was of white satin, trimmed with white lilies, cherries and lace.

Mrs. John Mendies looked pretty in an enormous white mob cap, trimmed with a great bow of cherry colored ribbons

Mme. Von Andre looked handsome, but one missed her beautiful hair under a fair wig of the period when hair was dressed high with great combs at the back. Philadelphia [PA] Inquirer 14 February 1904: p. 12


A Students’ Association had a very successful party, carrying out an idea that is especially good for a lawn party. Each guest had to wear a headdress belonging to some special century, or country, or suggestive of some idea or joke. The headdresses were supposed to be made by the wearers at small cost; prizes were given for the most artistic, the most effective, the most ingenious and the most comical.

The prize for the most artistic headdress went to a high, white medieval cap made of cheesecloth and stiff muslin worn in England in the time of Edward I. The most effective headdress was an enormous white ox-eye daisy made of paper; the most ingenious was a cat’s head that fitted like a mask all over the head, and was made of stiff muslin covered with gray packing paper and painted; the most comical was a caricature of the prevailing fashion of the time, worn by a tall, red-haired young man. The Book of Games and Parties for All Occasions, Theresa Hunt Wolcott, 1920

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Head-dress parties are frequently described as “amusing.” Perhaps she is too severe, but to Mrs Daffodil, they seem tailor-made for those too parsimonious to hire fancy dress for the evening or too indolent to chose a costume from the stock of original eighteenth-century garments kept in the box-room for family amateur theatricals. “A failure of imagination” about sums it up. Still, Mrs Daffodil realises that it is not an ideal world and there are times when an office Hallowe’en party demands, not a full super-hero costume, but merely a funny 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.


The Moon Party, a Halloween Entertainment: 1914

Selene Victorian fancy dress.

Selene Victorian fancy dress.

“Moon Party” Makes Novel Halloween Entertainment.

One of the most pleasant social affairs is a moon party. This is the sort of entertainment to give on Halloween (or Thanksgiving) when the harvest moon is in evidence.

Those who are willing to go to some trouble in preparation for the function will find in a moon party something out of the ordinary.

For invitations use colored cards with silver or white moons ferescent or full) on them. Write on the cards the following or some other verse:

Dear friends, this greeting brings to you

An invitation hearty

To join with us on Halloween

A merry moonlight party.

Moons of every description are to be used in decorating—full, crescent, de-crescent, half and gibbous. These may be made of silver or white paper. They may hang from ribbons or cords and may be festooned all about.

The receiving party may be composed of mythological characters associated with the moon.

The first of these may be the “moon maker” (Segende Nah), who cause the moon to issue from a deep well so brilliant that the real moon was concealed by it. His dark blue robe should be covered with bright red moons and he should carry a wand.

Another may represent “Phoebe,” (the moon as the sister of the sun) arrayed in silver and white.

A third may be “Astarte” (the crescent moon), the moon with the crescent horns; and a fourth, “Ashtoreth” (the Phoenician goddess moon), sometimes called the “queen of heaven” (Jeremiah VII: 18).

“Selene” (the moon goddess), may be represented with wings on her shoulders and a scepter in her hands.

“Cynthia” should be included as the moon in the open heaven who “hunts the clouds.”

And from embattled clouds emerging slow

Cynthia came riding on her silver car.

The lighting for the room should simulate moonlight. Vines and branches should be so hung as to throw their shadows on floor and walls.

As the people arrive they are given each a numbered crescent shaped souvenir bearing an appropriate quotation. Those holding the same number are partners in the game of “moon raking.”

“This game it should be explained to those taking part, gets its name from the legend of the farmer who once took a rake to rake the moon from the river under the delusion that it was a cream cheese.

The “moon rakers’ are attached to each other by pairs (by means of a white tape half a yard long. They are instructed to go and rake for the moons (round, white candy tablets), which have been hidden among which is a green cheese (cloth) moon.

The finder is awarded a tiny moonstone.

The fact that the moon rakers are bound together makes it difficult for them to search and adds to the liveliness of the game.

Another interesting game is that of the “man in the moon.” A big, white moon with a man’s face on it is outlined on a dark curtain. Each player essays in turn to pin the eye nearest the place intended for, a small favor being presented to the one who succeeds.

“Jumping over the moon” is another good moon party game. A moon is suspended from a rod held at a certain height and the player who jumps clear over it at the greatest height is the winner.

Cheese sandwiches, crescent in shape are appropriate for refreshments, with moon shaped or star shaped cookies and wafer disks.

J.A. Stewart.

672 S 51st  st. Philadelphia. Pa.

Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 18 October 1914: p. 11

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: We have Cynthia, but where is the goddess Diana, she of the crescent- moon crown?  It is not as if there is not admirable precedent for the goddess’s use as a fancy-dress character by the highest in the land:  the Empress of the French was said (in this caustic article) to be appearing at a fancy-dress ball in the character of the bare-limbed goddess.


The Empress of the French expected to give a grand fancy ball at her mother’s, the Countess de Montijo’s house, on Friday last, April 27. An exchange brought over by one of the recent steamers, says:

Eugenie, it is announced, will appear as the Goddess of Diana, equipped for the chase, and her dress will be composed of a short skirt of tulle, and of a body of flesh-colored silk, liberally embroidered with diamonds.

A large diamond crescent, and two stars to match, will sparkle on the forehead of the Goddess; the feathers of her arrows will be bedropped with diamonds, as a thread of gossamer with dew, and the pretty little pink boots, that are to give a finish to the costume, will likewise be adorned with precious gems set in anklets of gold. The jewels, some of which, it is said, will be wrenched form the crown, are more important to the costume than at first sight might be imagined. The dress of the Goddess Diana, consisting merely of a short tunic, and what are technically termed “fleshings,” would scarcely be becoming to a lady of high degree, though it might be exceedingly effective on the stage. But add a circle of diamonds to the scanty habiliments, and the standard of propriety is changed at once. Diana’s silver bow may not command much respect; even Diana’s real moon, inasmuch as it costs nothing, may be unheeded; but a Diana, with a crescent of diamonds—diamonds on her boots, diamonds on her arrows—is admissible into the most rigid circles.

Alexandria [VA] Gazette 5 May 1860: p. 2

The Empress Eugenie was widely regarded as a low-ranking and unsuitable match for the Emperor Napoleon III, an amusing attitude, considering the antecedents of that upstart Bonaparte. The Empress did give a series of extravagant fancy-dress balls in 1860 and called upon her favourite couturier, Charles Frederick Worth for imaginative costumes for her and her guests.  Here is a design for “Diana:”

From the Victoria & Albert collections

From the Victoria & Albert collections

However, the acerbic tone and the nonsense about wrenching jewels from the Crown make one suspect that this article was a piece of anti-Eugenie propaganda rather than an actual account of a fancy-dress costume.

The “moon-maker” was an 8th-century Arabian magician, also known as Hakim Ben-Hashem. He wore a veil to conceal the brilliance of his eyes, the result of causing a moon to issue from a well and remain visible for a week.

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.


Electric Lights and Squirrels in Fancy Dress: 1909


Alice Vanderbilt as the Electric Light. See more images of the surviving dress at http://thedreamstress.com/2010/10/1880s-fancy-dress-its-electric/

Alice Vanderbilt as the Spirit of Electricity. See more images at http://thedreamstress.com/2010/10/1880s-fancy-dress-its-electric/


Unique and Weird Effects in Fancy Dress Costumes in London.

London, January 23. Pageantry has seized the popular imagination, and in consequence there are to be an unprecedented number of fancy-dress balls and head-dress dinner and tea parties.

Already the head-dress parties are in full swing, and quaint head-gear descriptive of various advertisements and the titles of notable books are adding to the gayety of country house parties. The “Merry Widow” hat and other footlight favorites are also in demand.

The fancy-dress ball this season is taking precedence over all other forms of private entertaining, and it is already rumored that a royal fancy-dress ball is to be a fixture of the future. Every day brings increasing orders to costumers for fancy dresses of original design; for those of Shakespearean and Wagner’s heroes and heroines, for historic modes, for popular stage frocks, for the numberless old-time favorites representing the seasons, and for “Salome” dresses.

Strange as it may seem, there has been a great demand for “Salome” robes, modeled after Maude Allan’s own, for wear at private balls and parties. These robes are made of sterner stuff than that used by the famous dancer and the garish bosses and jewels, reflecting a myriad lights, are strikingly effective among the black swirling draperies.

The modern costumer must be up to date, and each passing event, therefore, has some suggestion for him: hence the robe “Penny Post to U.S.A.” Again, pink satin is used, and the panels of the Princess robe are painted with pictures of the different post offices of England and America. The head-dress is composed of photographs of the Postmasters-General of England and America. In the hand will be carried a tiny barrow full of parcels and on one shoulder will be a perfect model of the Lusitania, gleaming with electric lights, and on the other piles of letters.

Of exquisite beauty is a design called “On the moors.” It is in mauve satin, with a jaunty little tight-fitting coat, and the skirt is covered with purple and white heather. A squirrel sits perkily on one shoulder and a pheasant graces the other. The head-dress is also of heather, but it is lit up with a myriad lights.

A new dress for men is the “Flip-flap,” which is most ingeniously devised. The knickers and coat are made of white satin and light arms are attached which can be revolved at will. The end of the arms are filled with tiny figures representing people, and are lit with electricity.

San Francisco [CA] Chronicle 24 January 1909: p. 35

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Maud Allen was a dancer, notorious for her sensational “Dance of the Seven Veils,” in her production of “Vision of Salomé.” This photo-postcard will suggest why. In 1918 she was accused of obscenity, espionage, and various other crimes as popularised by Mr Oscar Wilde.


The up-to-date Penny Post fancy dress celebrates the new Transatlantic Penny Post–a penny an ounce for letters sent to or from England. The Lusitania was mentioned as carrying the first mailbags in October of 1908. One cannot imagine the Postmasters-General of England and America being a picturesque feature of those headdresses. The Lusitania was of course, torpedoed by a German U-Boat in 1915 with a loss of 1,198 souls. This was one factor that brought the Americans into the War in 1917.

The “Flip-flap” was an early roller-coaster amusement park ride. Mrs Daffodil hopes that the squirrels and pheasants used to accessorise “On the moor” were specimens of the taxidermist’s art.

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.


The Mutilated Sportsman and the Phrenological Bust: Gentlemen’s Fancy Dress: 1882

male fancy dress

Last week we advised the ladies on how to create inexpensive historical fancy dress. To-day we offer some inspiration to the gentlemen.

In selecting a costume a little forethought is necessary; some suit particular features and build of body better than others. A very short man as Coeur de Lion, or a tall one as Richard III., would be anomalies; but more than this, people at Fancy Balls often render themselves absolutely ridiculous because they assume characters in every way opposed to their own personality. I have seen a man with fine presence, and a face which would have added dignity to the garb of a Venetian senator, arrayed as a clown, and an inveterate practical joker, he who was “wont to set the table on a roar,” “a fellow of infinite jest,” as Rizzio. In our day, when taste and culture are considered worthy of a thought, historical costumes should not be chosen by people of education without some little study. England is rich in old portraits that might be copied with advantage rather than the theatrical ideas of periods which originate, not in history, but in the fertile brains of modern days. Our Royal Family afford an example worthy of imitation. The greatest pains were bestowed on the costumes worn at Her Majesty’s Fancy Ball in 1842, when the reign of Edward III. was specially selected; and the Fancy Ball at Marlborough House was notable for a Venetian and a Vandyke Quadrille, so truthfully carried out it seemed as if the originals of the Old Masters had come to life again. A long experience of Fancy Balls makes me advise those who desire to dance to avoid heavy wigs, hats, cloaks, swords, wands, and the several etceteras which have to be carried in the hand. They are laid down anywhere early in the evening, and seldom found except with difficulty.

For Calico Balls the costume, though made of cotton,, chintz, cretonne, &c, is generally allowed to be trimmed with gold or silver, and neither cotton shoes nor gloves are deemed necessary. Among suitable costumes for Calico Balls are Postboy, Incroyable, Yankee, Perfect Cure, Porter, Cook, Christy Minstrel…

Many are deterred from accepting invitations to Fancy Balls, by the difficulties which surround appearing in appropriate guise. My object has been to meet and facilitate these as much as possible.

Thence follows several hundred suggestions for fancy dress, most of which do not stray beyond the standard Pierrot, Sicilian Brigand, Cavalier, and historical figures like The Earl of Essex or Alfred the Great.  Still, occasionally one finds a flash of whimsey, such as the following:

AQUARIUM (Suitable for a boy) Stockings; short trousers; close-fitting bodice high to the throat, with tight sleeves to wrist, make in light green sateen or cotton, covered with lobsters, crabs, and other fish, in bright red embroidery, or in red paper stuck on; green seaweed fringe goes round the knees, waist, and the close-fitting green cap; red shoes; a belt of shells

ATLANTIC CABLE Sailor’s dress; a thick cable wound four or five times round wist, encircles the limbs below the knees, and falls in thick coils over left arm; an anchor is attached to it. The brim of the hat is turned up in front and bears the words, “Telegraphic Despatches”; the long blue streamers are marked “Transatlantic Cable.”

CLOCK: Classic robe of white cashmere, with cape and hood; VIII on the hood, shoulders, and back; dials, with hands poiting to the hour, on back and on knees, the latter having weights attached. High pointed cap with the hours round. Wand in hand with 24 upon it.

EVENING DRESS OF THE FUTURE: viz., white where it is now black and vice vera; white evening dress coat and trousers; black shirt; tie and collar, &c.

JAPANESE: Loose robe of yellow and gold satin worked with birds; loose orange trousers embroidered with gold. It is better, if possible, to obtain a dress from the country; any attempt to produce the embroidery in England would result in failure.

LUCIFER: Velvet tight-fitting doublet and trunks; black silk stockings; black velvet shoes with pointed toes; large black tarlatan wings made on frames; and a silver star on the forehead.

MUTILATED SPORTSMAN: Wears an old shooting-shirt, and has a wooden leg, and an arm tied up, as though broken.

PHRENOLOGICAL BUST: Draped in white, with skull wig, drawn out as a map according to bumpts, &c.

PICNIC: Grass green stockings and shoes; white tablecloth, worn as Mexican poncho, on it drawings of pigeon-pies, lobster salads, orange jelly, &c., looped up where necessary with knife and fork in tin.

Gentlemen’s Fancy Dress: How to Choose It, Ardern Holt, 1882

The variety in costumes really was quite staggering. Here is a list of the characters seen at a fancy-dress charity ball in 1823 Liverpool.

“Here,” says the Mercury, “mingling in the dance, promenading, or conversing, were seen abbots, Algerines, antiquaries, and angels; barons, bravoes, barristers, and beauties; clowns, courtiers, and caliphs; dukes, danes and dowagers; ensigns, esquires, & egotists; farmers, fairies, & flower-girls; Grecians, gossips, Germans, and gardners; hussars, highlands, and Hindoos; Indians, infants, and Icelanders; Jews, Japanese, and jokers; kings and Kamschatdales; lawyers, lords, lovers, ladies, and Laplanders; mayors, magistrates, and mandarins; nabobs, nobles, and Neapolitans; officers, Oxonians, outlaws, and oddities; princes, peasants, priests, and pirates; queens, quakers, and quidnuncs, robbers, Romans, and racers; Spaniards, sailors, and shepherdesses; Tartars, Turks, tyrants, and Tyrolese; userers and Utopians; Venetians, villagers, and villains; warriors, woodmen, and warders; youths and yeomen; zealots and Zealanders.” New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette [Concord, NH] 8 December 1823: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A “calico ball” was a fancy-dress entertainment in which creations in lowly printed cotton were substituted for velvets, silks, and brocades. They were quite popular as ways to raise money for charities, the logic being that if one had an inexpensive costume, one could spare more money for the charity.

The ladies of the Royal School of Needlework would, no doubt, be incensed at the aspersions cast on English embroidery in the Japanese costume section.

It is most curious that there are no suggestions for a fancy-dress ghost, nor for a vampire, zombie, or werewolf. One supposes it is because tights are practically a requirement for the well-bred Englishman donning fancy dress.

Here are some ingenious costumes worn by gentleman unafraid to eschew tights.side of bacon fancy dress 1894

rooster fancy dressStork costume


skeleton costume masque of red death

Masque of the Red Death skeleton

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.

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.




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.