Following up to this post, here’s a fantastic look at Victorian “fancy dress balls”–they were all the rage at the time, but really picked up in the later half of the century where the focus was more on self-expression than hiding oneself, as was the case at 18th-century masquerades (Phantom hearkens back to this earlier tradition, but the idea of a masquerade hiding one’s true identity also works perfectly for its theatrical setting).
Here are some wackier costumes from fancy dress balls. I’m in love with this one:
And look! A bee!
Here’s a fashion plate with some costume ideas from across the centuries (and of course, we wouldn’t be in the Victorian era if there weren’t a bit of tone-deaf cultural appropriation with the Native American costume.):
It was actually common for women to wear shorter skirts at these balls so they could show off their fabulous boots (as you see above, and as is the case with Christine’s stage version of the Star Princess dress):
Depending on your host, masks of all kinds were welcome, so you were free to be as unsettlingly disturbing as you wanted while you lounged by the punch bowl and made rabbit eyes at the eligible young heiress whose hand in marriage comes with fifty thousand pounds a year and a lifetime of resentment because women’s rights didn’t exist yet:
Suppose you can’t make it to the most fashionable balls London or Paris this season. If it’s 1883 and you are Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt and happen to have $6 million of disposable income at your fingertips, why not throw your own fancy dress ball for New York City’s elite (and spend millions on champagne alone)? And why don’t you one-up every single one of your guests by dressing as that most wondrous of new inventions, Edison’s electric light? I defy the Rockefellers to steal your spotlight when the spotlight in question could very easily electrocute them.
Like flowers? Of course you do. Like spring? Oh, my God, do you ever. Like pretending you’re but a mere shepherdess, giggling and flouncing away from the advances of the blacksmith’s apprentice? GOOD LORD, YES. Like the 18th century? HELL YES, OH MAN, GIMME THAT ROCOCO SPRING FLOWER EXPLOSION:
BUT WAIT! You’re not gonna let that Rococo Spring Flower Explosion HARLOT flounce away with your suitor, are you? HELL NO, YOU ARE NOT. Which is why you are prepared to send her running dressed as a GORGEOUS FREAKING BUTTERFLY:
But where would a butterfly be without a lovely flower upon which to perch? Enter your secret lesbian lover, the Rose:
Or, if you’re uncomfortable with NOT being the center of attention every waking moment, you could just pull the equivalent of one-upping the bride at a wedding by wearing white and come dressed as the DAMN SUN:
But maybe you’re more of the goth persuasion. Might I suggest a tasteful sorceress?
A dainty Batman ensemble to match your wife’s delicate moth angel gown?
Vampire mistress of the night, perhaps?
Actually, bat motifs were an extremely popular costume option, not just in the 19th century, but also at 18th century balls:
But if it’s 1880 and you want to carry on grandma’s bat tradition, this might be a more modern take on a pocket-sized blood-sucking demon:
You are so thrilled to attend the costume ball like the goth nightmare you are, you can hardly contain your enthusiasm:
Here is a tastefully acceptable take on Satan. Might I sample your punch, Mrs. Higgenbottom, before I make away with your soul?
“Oh, I do so love your seagull gown.”
“Oh, why thank you, my dear friend!”
“But I’ve not the slightest idea what I shall wear to the ball!”
“Why, Constance, it is a simple matter of identifying something near and dear to your heart and then adapting it into a suitable costume. I, for example, find solace in the sea, particularly in the birds of the sea, and most particularly when they nose-dive into and defecate upon the boat, shrieking like banshees in heat. Hence, the seagulls adorning my gown. What do you like the very most, Constance?”
Or, maybe you’re just a shameless ho and don’t give a brass farthing about showing your ankles, your calves, your thighs, or your hoo-ha at the Embassy Ball, in which case, blaze it:
There are officially zero excuses for boring monochromatic masquerade scenes in Phantom now, thank you.
I’m pretty sure that last photo was a stage actress, but most of the rest of these seem legit.
Next Halloween I’m making one of these, and y’all better goddamn hold me to it.