Fancy Dresses Described;

The Hornet.

Fancy Dresses Described; or What to Wear at Fancy Balls is an 1887 costume guide, and it is amazing and wonderful. Some of the ideas would be best avoided in this century, but the costumes run the gamut from Five O’Clock Tea to Gold Mines to Backgammon to whole countries, and everything in between. Fascinating. The lists of illustrated costumes does not even come close to all the costume guides:

A sample of one page of descriptions:

The costumes are amazing and beautiful:


Oh, the Magpie! Who needs an excuse to wear that?

I haven’t even come close to perusing the whole book, but this caught my eye, and now I want this outfit:

Masherette. Black satin tail coat and skirt, with white waistcoat; black embroidered stockings; crimson silk handkerchief; opera hat and crutch stick; high Wellington boots; shirt front, high collar; eyeglass in eye; buttonhole.

Monte Carlo.

The book is a tremendous amount of fun, just on reading alone, and it’s a great resource and imagination spark for all the costume makers and wearers out there. Fuck, I really wish I could sew.  It’s as well to remember that this book did cater to the rich, just look at the entry for Night. Diamonds scattered in the hair, and much more. Of course, there’s no need for them to be real.


  1. rq says

    Ok, in love with the magpie. I have to bookmark this for next time I need a ballgown (bwahahahaaa), I know a good seamstress. I already saved a few pictures from the flower series (sketching in a few modifications), but this is just lively. That magpie…
    There’s also a soft spot for the Queen of the Beetles. :D

  2. says

    Busterggi, no of course not. As noted, this book catered to the filthy rich. Think Mrs. Astor. Some of those costumes would have cost a bundle, and that’s an understatement. All that said, this is still a very fun and imaginative guide. One of the last I would personally choose would be one based on an actual figure, buuuuuut, if I were to decide on Charlotte Corday, I could have a lovely sharp and shiny as part of my costume.

    Then there are things like the Magpie, or the Masherette, both of which can be made into eyecatching, somewhat updated outfits.

  3. says

    That’s lovely, but I’d still prefer the Masherette or Magpie. Or possibly La Belle Dame sans Merci. Personal style, y’know.

  4. rq says

    Who gets to be the head, cartomancer?

    That’s the great thing about the magpie, you can adjust the cut of the skirt for more current fashions (and spend less on material). I’ve always loved long coattails though -- used to be a boutique here that did short-in-front suit jackets with lovely long tails down the back in brilliant colours for women. Sadly, I could never afford one, but it’s on the wishlist.
    I’m mostly wondering, though, where to get a mass of ever-moving toy beetles, or should I just collect live ones? :D

  5. says


    I’m mostly wondering, though, where to get a mass of ever-moving toy beetles, or should I just collect live ones? :D

    Oh, I’d be tempted to go for live ones, in shiny, beautiful colours. Of course, you’d have to have some way to keep them on your costume, without harming them. I’d most likely decorate with beetle bits, it’s a pain in the arse, but so beautiful!

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