Fancy Dress

Costumed theatre, skating carnivals and fancy dress balls reached the pinnacle of popularity during the final quarter of the nineteenth century.

The most popular costumes for fancy dress were historical characters such “Lady of the Time of Marie Antoinette” worn by Mrs. R.A. Lindsay (née Charlotte Vernon) to a Montreal fancy dress ball in 1881

Photograph of Mrs. R.A. Lindsay as a "Lady of the Time of Marie Antoinette"

Photograph of Mrs. R.A. Lindsay as a "Lady of the Time of Marie Antoinette" 1881, Photo © CMH

There was great interest in achieving historical accuracy with these costumes, while still following the look of contemporary fashion. This dress, for instance, called a “princess-style dress”, which was sewn without a waistline, was popular in the 1870s. The costume incorporated the white wig and regal velvet sleeve detail one would associate with Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe. Mrs. R.A. Lindsay’s dress demonstrates how common it was to remake recently outmoded garments into fancy dress. Other costumes such as allegorical, literary and exotic characters were also popular. Fancy dress events were often themed to celebrate Canadian history or loyalty to the British Empire. This supported and helped to disseminate the educational themes of technological progress, art and literature, not only through the costumes chosen for each event, but also in reports on the balls in the social pages of Canadian newspapers.