While wandering around on the Net I found this absolutely delightful little book Fancy dresses described; or, what to wear at fancy ballsby Ardern Holt from 1896. The book contain useful tips as well as descriptions to several hundred different costumes, some illustrated very charmingly, so if you ever wondered what to wear, here is your answer. I feel a strong urge to attend a Victorian costume ball now!
A few costume examples: Brown-haired ladies can, for example, dress up as a Bees, Bride of Abydos, Esmeralda, Harvest or Rose of Castille. Blondes on the other hand may go as Arctic Maiden, Canadian Snow-wreath, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, Moonlight or a Water-nymph. Elderly ladies can opt to go as My grandmother, Puritan, Wife of the vicar of Wakefield or Mother Hibbard. Men’s costumes isn’t covered in this book, though there are an appendix for boy’s clothes but a married couple can go as Jack and Jill, Cock and Hen, Day and Night or King and Queen.
The book then describes what is proper to wear on the increasingly popular Calico balls, i.e. masquerades where you were cotton. Like Bo-peep, Five O’clock Tea or One of the Rising Generation. However, Calico is a rather elastic word- cotton-backed satin and cotton velvet can be worn.
As it is very uncomfortable to dance without gloves, one has to make allowances for them. Peasant-girls and other simple costumes can make do with mittens. There are also suggestions as hot to wear your hair for various types of costumes. For 18th century costumes it is advised not to wear wigs, as they are heavy and unbecoming. Instead, dress your hair with brilliantine and then powder it with Violet powder. A so called Poudré ball may see the guests in their usual finery, but with powdered hair.
Remember that a costume ball demand more attention on decorations and that also servants and musicians should be in costume. As for dances, country dances are very popular.
The main section describes all the costumes. Here are a few examples, but I think you should go and read the book in whole for all the suggestions.
ASTROLOGY. Short striped satin skirt in amber, black and red. Cabalistic sign on a band of amber, displaying cat’s heads. Bodice and paniers in red satin with the same insignia, all studded with gold and silver stars; short shoulder cape of black satin, black pointed cap with similar signs; powdered hair. Books and telescope carried in the hand.
BAT. Short dress in grey, blue and gold with long sleeves attached to arm from shoulder to wrist, in the semblance of bat wings. A bow on the front of the bodice recalls a bat with outstretched wings. Bat in hair.
DEW. White crystal tulle dress, trimmed with green grass; veil studded with crystal drops. Hair hanging loose, sprinkled with frosting powder; wreath of grasses.
FENCING. A skirt with perpendicular strips of velvet and leather. A leather jacket with a red heart embroidered on the side. A fencing mask forming a headdress; foils hung at the side.
INFLUENZA. Dress of grey tulle with a hot water bottle on one side and a packet of mustard leaves on the other. A pair of scales in the hair attached to a bandeau on which appears the word “quinine”.
OSTRICH. Ostrich all white and black feathers; an arrangement of plumes at the waist counterfeit the train; head-dress, the bird’s head.
The book end with a several pages long advertisement for Debenhams’s & Freebody.