Fancy dress from page, stage to screen

Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum. "Fairy"; Guaze bodice with tinsel, English, c.1920.

Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum. “Fairy”; Guaze bodice with tinsel, English, c.1920.

Characters from page, stage and screen have long been a rich source of inspiration for children’s fancy dress. At the V&A Museum of Childhood a whole host of these inspirational fancy dress costumes are now on display. The display has costumes spanning over 90 years and includes a mini Spider-Man outfit complete with foam muscles, a six-pack and web-shooters, an Alice in Wonderland inspired costume by Roksanda pattern-cutter Josie Smith, a tiny tinsel fairy dress with wings, a colourful bee plus a first prize winning ‘Little Miss Muffet’ ensemble complete with tuffet…sadly however the spider has scarpered.

Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum. Lord Mayor's Children's Ball, photograph album, British, 1936.

Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum. Lord Mayor’s Children’s Ball, photograph album, British, 1936.

By dressing-up as fantastical characters from fiction and engaging in imaginative role-play, children are not only having a lot of fun but they are also demonstrating a deeper and active understanding of stories, people and places. Fancy dress has grown in popularity from its early origins in Venetian carnival to become an everyday sight with youngsters dressing up for parties, play and also for school on World Book Day.

Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum. ‘Children’s Fancy Dress’ by Marie Schild, London, 1885 (third edition).

A big part of our on-going engagement with fancy dress is thanks to the mass production of costumes, which has helped democratised fancy dress, making it more affordable and accessible. But what I think ensures its continued popularity is that fancy dress provides children and their families with the chance to collaborate creatively and to suspend their disbeliefs through play.

 

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