Victorian Fancy Dress: Defined and Described

If you’re an American reader of historical fiction set in the Victorian Era, then chances are you’ve stumbled across the phrase “fancy dress.” And chances are you may have assumed said phrase literally meant the novel’s heroine was wearing a fancy dress—as in a lavish gown designed for high society soirees. And chances are you might’ve suffered great confusion when the novel’s hero arrived, at the same soiree, also donning a fancy dress.

“Why has gruff Lord Deveron suddenly taken to wearing crinolines, and why, in heavens name, do none of the characters seem to notice this odd wardrobe alteration?”

For readers who’ve gawked at a paperback in a similar state of puzzlement, this post is for you. Let’s take the perplexity out of this phrase once and for all!

Victorian Fancy Dress Defined

Hornet Fancy Dress Costume Sketch from “Fancy Dresses Described; or, What to Wear at Fancy Balls” by Ardern Holt. Fifth Edition, Publication Date: 1887.  Publisher: Wyman & Sons London. / Source: Archive.org

Hornet Fancy Dress Costume Sketch from “Fancy Dresses Described; or, What to Wear at Fancy Balls” by Ardern Holt. Fifth Edition, Publication Date: 1887. Publisher: Wyman & Sons London. / Source: Archive.org

According to the Merriam-Webster English Dictionary “fancy dress” is defined as: Continue reading