“But, what are we to wear?
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”
I was quite excited when Shari (from La Rose Soiree & La Rose Passementarie) announced that she would be holding a Victorian fancy dress ball. My first thought was excitement. The second thought is very well described by the quote above. This lovely booklet was pointed out to me by Desiree, and it’s such a treasure! It gives a thorough catalog of all types of options for fancy dress, including quite a lot of grey scale pictures, and a couple full color ones. It’s a lot of fun to read through as well!
In this post, a small selection of some of the gems inside the book.
The book starts with recommendations on what costumes to wear depending on your coloring and age.
Brunettes could choose, for instance, Autumn, Diana, Fire or Spanish dress, while fair women are more suited to Day, Fairy, Moonlight, Rainbow or Swiss dress. Sisters could go together, and choose costumes such as Salt and Fresh water, Music and Paintings or Oranges and Lemons. Similarly, husband and wife could do Kings and Queens, or Night and Day.
It also gives some general guidelines, such that: “It is uncomfortable to dance without gloves, so consistency yields to convenience”. And hair styling advice, such that: “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…”
Then it’s on to the specific costumes! In alphabetical order, as they are in the book, a favourite for each letter.
A: Aquarium: Fashionable evening dress of blue and green tulle, trimmed with marine plants and ornamented with fish and shells, the octopus on one side of the skirt; veil of green tulle; hair floating on shoulders. Bodice trimmed with seaweed and coral; ornaments, silver fish and coral.
B: Butterfly: Short white satin skirt, covered with clouds of brown, pink and blue tulle. Flight of butterflies all over it. Wings of blue gauze, and the antennae in the head-dress. White silk stockings and white shoes. Butterfly on each.
C: Chess: Front breadth, squares of black and white silk, black band at edge of skirt, row of red ribbon above. Black silk train piped with red, caught up with check ribbon, and bordered with checks. Sleeves of black and white squares to wrist, black cuffs piped with red. V-shaped black bodice, with ruff. Coronet of chessmen, larger pieces in front, the same for ornaments, all made of wood.
D: Dresden China: Under this name almost any poudre character may be worn, with or without a saque. It is generally thus rendered: Quilted short skirt, high-heeled shoes and clocked stockings; chintz or brocaded bunched up tunic; muslin apron; low bodice; short sleeves with ruffles; coloured stomacher laced across; bow of ribbon or black velvet around neck; straw hat or muslin cap; powdered hair. A newer rendering has bows of ribbons and flowers on the shoulders, with a tiny china figure in the centre; a satin chapeau bras with mroe flowers springing from centre; crook and high-heeled shoes.
E: Eve: Dress of white India muslin, trimmed with apples, leaves and blossom; fig-leaves for pockets; out of one peeps a serpent’s head with emerald eyes, out of the other falls a triplet of white lilies; a wreath of small apples, flowers and leaves, necklace, a serpent of gold and silver enamel in red and blue.
F: Fairy: Short tulle diaphanous dress, with low full bodice, covered with silver spangles; silver belt at waist; wings of gauze on wire attached to back; hair floating; a silver circlet on the head. Or, for a Fairy queen; a crown, the wand, to be carried in hand, becoming a sceptre. Stars should be introduced on the dress and on the satin shoes.
G: the Gloaming: Dress of grey tulle, or muslin, or gauze over satin, made as an ordinary evening dress, or in classic fashion; a veil of the same material; fireflies imprisoned int he tulle; bat fastened on one shoulder, an owl on the other; silver and smoked pearl ornaments.
H: the Hornet: Short black or brown dress of velvet or satin; boots to match; tunic pointed back and front, with gold stripes; satin bodice of black or brown with gold gauze wings; cap of velvet with eyes and antennae of insect
I: Ice maiden: White gauze dress; pointed tulle cap and veil fastened with wreath of icicles or ice-flowers spangled with powdered glass; long gloves; bracelets and chains of icicles; girdle of falling icicles made of glass.
J: Joan of Arc: White painted cashmere skirt; a suit of armour, with helmet and plume, mailed feet, gloves; red cloak at shoulder. The sout of armour may be of silver, burnished steel or what is called scale armour. But it can also be made by cutting out in strong brown paper the vaious pieces required, copied from any illustrated history, …, pated over with silvered paper. Round the edges inside strips of linen should be pasted to strengthen them, so that tapes may be sewn in with which to tie them on…
L: Lorelei: Dress of watered silk, shot with silver, draped with green, and caught up with water lilies, coral and diamonds; veil to match; sometimes soft muslin is draped in classic fashion; the hair flowing; a coronet of silver on the head; an old fashioned lyre carried in the hand.
M: Magpie. The front of skirt is striped black and white satin plaited; the bodice cut in one with long side revers of black, lined and turned back with white ruching to the hem of the skirt, opening down back to show full plaited skirt. The black bodice bordered with white; low striped vest; magpie on the shoulder and in hair; which may be powdered or not, or half powdered.
N: Needles and pins: This dress is after the mother Hubbard order. A quilted skirt, with chintz train; low black velvet bodice, fichu; powdered hair; cap and pointed velvet hat. In front of the dress every kind of needle and pin is inserted. Pins forming the motto “Needles and pins, needles and pins; when a man marries his troubles begin,” on the train.
O: October: … with trimmings of leaves variegated with all the rich reds and browns of the autumn tints. A classic cream dress would show such trimmings to advantage. Or, an evening dress of cream and gold satin introducing acorns, with the leaves applied to dress and head-dress
P: Planets: White satin short skirt, bordered with a blue silk band and dotted with silver stars; white gauze over-skirt and plaited low bodice bespangled with stars; long wing-like sleeves to match; blue satin Swiss belt cut in points, a star on each; blue coronet with stars; long veil with stars; necklace and bracelets of the same.
Q: Quicksilver. Fashionable black evening dress made of tulle, and trimmed with silver.
R: Ruben’s wife: Yellow and brown silk and violet velvet, the skirt of the velvet touching the ground; the bodice a low square with square ruff, lace edged; the hair in curls; the bodice, which has a broad rounded point, has jewels in front of a yellow stomacher; the sleeves have an upper puff of violet, an elbow puff slashed with brown and yellow, puffs of yellow to wrist, with turn-back cuffs; the colours are blended into the trimmings on the skirt mixed with jewels; a feather fan is carried in the hand; a large-brimmed, low-crowned hat, turned up on one side with ostrich plumes and jewel
S: Sunbeam: White tulle dress, flounced to waist, each flounce edged with rows of gold braid; a large sash round the waist with gold fringe, a gold chatelaine bag at side; head-dress, veil of gold tissue, enveloping the figure and glittering at every moment; ornament, gold.
T: Twenty-four o’clock: New clock dial on chest and forehead, with hours from one to twenty-four; at back of head a pendulum swinging; short costume of black and white satin.
U: Universe: Short blue and white dress made of cashmere or soft silk in classic fashion, or in gauze or twill as an evening gown, with stars and spheres for ornaments; star-spangled veil.
V: Vandyke: Full plain skirt; muslin apron; edged with pointed lace; godice with revers; sleeves to wrist; hair in curls
W: Witch: Short quilted skirt of red satin, with cats and lizards in black velvet; gold satin panier tunic; black velvet bodice laced over an old-gold crepe bodice; small cat on right shoulder, a broom in the hand, with owl; tall pointed velvet cap; shoes with buckles
Y: New Year: Radiant young girl in heyday of youth wearing plain long full satin skirt, with hours in silver round it; silver cord about waist; bodice full; pendent sleeves from elbow, caught up with roses; wreath of roses and veil in hair.
“There are few occasions when a woman has a better opportunity of showing her charms to advantage than at a Fancy Ball.”