A Victorian Fancy Dress Ball: Popular Costumes of the Late 19th Century

The Kiss by Auguste Toulmouche, 1870.
The Kiss by Auguste Toulmouche, 1870.

During the Victorian era, fancy dress balls were one of the grandest and most fashionable ways for a society hostess to make her mark. These magnificent, costumed affairs were widely reported in 19th century newspapers, with a great deal of attention paid to who was wearing what. Guests dressed up as historical figures such as Marie Antoinette or Napoleon.  They also wore more creative costumes—many of which were recommended in fancy dress advice manuals and costume books. In today’s article, we look at a few of these costumes and at some of the more famous Victorian fancy dress balls held at Brighton Pavilion, Warwick Castle, and Devonshire House.

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The Notorious 1880 Police Raid of the Cross-Dressing Ball at Temperance Hall

“…one of the foulest and most disgraceful orgies that ever disgraced any town.”
The Huddersfield Daily Chronicle, October 1, 1880.

Illustrated Police News, October 9, 1880.
Illustrated Police News, October 9, 1880.

On September 24, 1880, the Manchester City Police received information that a fancy dress ball scheduled to be held that night at the Temperance Hall in York Street, Hulme, was going to be of an improper character.  According to the September 27, 1880 edition of the London Evening Standard, the hall had been engaged a few days prior by the Association of Pawnbrokers’ Assistants.  However, upon investigation, Detective-Sergeant Jerome Caminada discovered that the association knew nothing of the ball and that “the room had been hired under false pretence.”[…]Continue Reading

Medieval Hairstyles for Men and Women: Guest Post By Regan Walker

Today, bestselling historical author Regan Walker brings us a guest post on Medieval hairstyles for men and women!

Detail of Illustration form an Italian breviary showing women's figured silk gowns and a saint. Bilbliothèque Nationale, Paris, 1380.
Detail of Illustration form an Italian breviary, Bilbliothèque Nationale, Paris, 1380.

The Medieval Era spanned the 5th to the 15th century.  For my Medieval Warriors series, I did considerable research on the hairstyles of men and women during the Medieval Era, though my particular interest was the 11th century.  For my newest book in the series, Rebel Warrior, I also needed to know how the hairstyles might have differed in Scotland.[…]Continue Reading

Canines and Crinolines: Victorian Dogs Captured by Fashion

Portrait of Princess Dagmar of Denmark with her Dog, 1860s.
Portrait of Princess Dagmar of Denmark with her Dog, 1860s.

In January of 1865, a young charwoman appeared at the Lambeth Police Court in London seeking assistance from the magistrate after having been attacked by her employer’s favorite dog.  A January 7th edition of the Kentish Independent reports that her employer’s name was Miss Mary Baker, “a maiden lady of over 70 years of age.”  Two years prior, Miss Baker had inherited a substantial fortune, the bulk of which she now expended on “feeding and keeping” a large pack of dogs inside of her house.  As the article relates:[…]Continue Reading

Victorian Sewing: A Brief History of Plain and Fancy Work

“Light or fancy needlework often forms a portion of the evening’s recreation for the ladies of the household…”  Beeton’s Book of Household Management, 1861.

Portraits in the Countryside by Gustave Caillebotte, 1876.
Portraits in the Countryside by Gustave Caillebotte, 1876.

During the 19th century, women were rarely idle in their spare moments.  Many preferred instead to occupy themselves with a bit of sewing.  This sewing generally fell into two broad categories: plain work and fancy work.  Plain work was used to make or mend simple articles of clothing.  While fancy work—which included knitting, crochet, and embroidery—was used in a more decorative sense.  A young lady skilled at both plain and fancy work could not only repair her current clothing, she could design and sew stylish new pieces to supplement her wardrobe.  As an 1873 issue of Harper’s Bazaar explains:[…]Continue Reading

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