I defy anyone to read Fancy Dresses Described or What to Wear at Fancy Balls, 1887, without hurrying off to run up one of these costumes immediately.
To dress up as Air: “A white tulle or gauze dress… the lower skirt is dotted about with silver swallows, the upper covered with a variety of insects. Head-dress, a gold weather-vane.” You should also find room on there for a windmill, a bellows and horn.
Queen of the Beetles involves “Short black skirt with horizontal stripes of red and yellow; a black pointed cap, the whole covered with ever-moving toy beetles.”
The Suez Canal is easier: “Long flowing robe of cloth of gold, with waves of blue satin bordered with pearls…”
I think my favourite is Dusk: “Dress of dull grey, muslin or gauze, silver ornaments and smoked pearls, a bat on shoulder.”
Express sounds challenging: “Miniature steam engine in flowing hair… wheeled skates for shoes.”
These are sweet: Glowworm: “Evening dress of light brown satin with an electric star in the hair.” Bullfinch: “Grey shoes with red heels and grey stockings with red clocks.” Amphitrite: “Silver tunic with shells, coral and seaweed.”
You can also dress as Night on the Bosphorus, A Basket of Violets, The Cotton Trade, Etruscan China, The Post Office – “On the skirt the different rates of postage, times of posting, names of several mails” – and The Family of the Vicar of Wakefield. Winners, all of them.
Male partygoers don’t come off too well, unfortunately: they can wear “Evening dress of the future”, ie white instead of black, or dress like “an Irish car-driver” – patches – or “the tall gamekeeper in Pickwick” – corduroy trousers. Hard cheese.