A costume party (American English) or a fancy dress party (British English) is a type of party, common mainly in contemporary Western culture, where guests dress up in costumes. Costumed Halloween parties are popular in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
The origins of fancy dress parties in the United Kingdom can in some respects be traced to masked balls of the 18th century period. In the period to 1850, fancy dress balls were a typical part of the social life of music festivals.
Notable amongst early events in the 20th century was the Chelsea Arts Club ball. Such events were often elaborate affairs and for the most part confined to those with considerable means.
Amongst the general population, costume parties also occurred with increasing frequency from the late 1940s onward, although for the most part the costumes were simple affairs until the mid-1970s. Prior to ‘cheap’ costume imports from the Far East (late 1990s), most costumes were either hired, or home constructed. Retail purchased costumes is, in respect of the UK, a largely modern phenomenon (late 1990s onward) although ‘accessory’ items had been available for some time. Since the increased import rate in late 1990’s onwards saw the many materials / products being imported from the Far East with cost savings in labour and bulk orders. This has seen the price of purchased costumes becoming more and more affordable.
Coupled with the modern trend in costume parties, ‘retro’ fashion as a costume theme (such as a 1970s or 1980s fancy dress) is also popular, the costumes to some extent parodying or pastiching the fashions of earlier decades. Amongst the most popular parodied costumes are: Audrey Hepburn (as Holly Golightly), Madonna in her classic stage outfits, and more recently Lady Gaga.
Fancy dress parties are popular year round in the United Kingdom. The 1996 novel Bridget Jones’s Diary features the classic British costume party theme “Tarts and Vicars” at which the women wear sexually provocative (“tart”) costumes, while the men dress as Anglican priests (“vicars”). Fancy dress parties have been held by the British Royal Family. Prince William celebrated his 21st birthday with an “Out of Africa” theme, Princess Beatrice chose an 1888 themed party for her 18th birthday, and Freddie and Gabriella Windsor celebrated a joint birthday party with a pre-French Revolution courtly theme.
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