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Distributed for Reaktion Books

Dressing Up

A History of Fancy Dress in Britain

Distributed for Reaktion Books

Dressing Up

A History of Fancy Dress in Britain

Featuring many exquisite historical photographs, a celebration of the sometimes extravagant, sometimes bizarre pastime: playing dress-up.
Pierrot, Little Bo Peep, cowboy: these characters and many more form part of this colorful story of dressing up, from the accession of Queen Victoria to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. During this time, fancy dress became a regular part of people’s social lives, and the craze for it spread across Britain and the Empire, reaching every level of society. Spectacular and witty costumes appeared at suburban street carnivals, victory celebrations, fire festivals, missionary bazaars, and the extravagant balls of the wealthy. From the Victorian middle classes performing “living statues” to squads of Shetland men donning traditional fancy dress and setting fire to a Viking ship at the annual Up Helly Aa celebration, this lavishly illustrated book provides a unique view into the quirky, wonderful world of fancy dress.

320 pages | 40 color plates, 104 halftones | 6 3/4 x 8 3/4


History: British and Irish History

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“Wilson’s extensive research yields many inventive get-ups. . . . Takes the reader on an entertaining journey . . . [and] does not shy away from the murkier reaches of Britain’s fancy-dress history.”


"Based on extensive new research, lucidly written, generously illustrated, this captivating book uncovers the remarkable 'lost' history of fancy dress and reveals its connections to community and national identity. Original, delightful, and unexpectedly topical."

Barbara Burman, coauthor of "The Pocket: A Hidden History of Women's Lives, 1660-1900"

"Full of original material, Dressing Up opens up the world of fancy dress to new interpretations. Ranging across questions of history, identity, aesthetics, and production, Wilson demonstrates the integral role 'costume' played in the social and psychological life of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Britain. Alongside the scholarship, the vivid illustrations and wry anecdotes are priceless."

Christopher Breward, director, National Museums Scotland, author of "The Suit: Form, Function and Style"

"In this absorbing and authoritative history, Wilson demonstrates that fancy dress is more than just juvenile playacting or adult escapism. Using rare images and ephemeral artifacts, she unmasks what these disguises (from insects to suffragettes) have revealed about class, race, sexuality, and nationalism, offering insights into modern cosplay and Instagram culture."

Kimberly Chrisman Campbell, author of "Worn on This Day: The Clothes That Made History" and "The Way We Wed: A Global History of Wedding Fashion"

"[An] entertaining . . . . survey of sartorial masquerade in Britain."

World of Interiors

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