By Lisa Karon Richardson
In 1897 the Duchess of Devonshire caused a stir of monsoon proportions among her many friends when she announced the intention of throwing a fancy dress ball in honor of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. For weeks in advance, the cream of the haute ton combed through London’s galleries and leafed through fables making lists of potential costumes and even sketching out their ideas. Eventually they found their way into the hands of modistes who spun lavish costumes from their airy daydreams.
Happily for us, the Duchess knew how to throw a party, and hired a photographer to memorialize the evening by taking pictures of her fabulously turned out guests.
|Mrs. Reginald Talbot as a Valkyrie
|Sir Charles and Lady Hartopp as Napoleon and Josephine
|Lady Margaret Villiers dressed as Monsieur’s wife, Madame, Duchess d’Orleans.
|The Ladies Churchill as Watteau shepherdesses.
|Lady Randolph Churchill (Sir Winston Churchill’s mother) as the Empress Theodora, wife of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian.
|Sir Edgar Vincent as a character from a painting by Franz Hals.
But I have to say that the Duchess wasn't the only one throwing fancy dress balls. In 1883, well before the Jubilee was a twinkle in the Duchess's eyes, Alva Vanderbilt threw an elaborate fancy dress affair that hosted the high and mighty of the US. Her sister-in-law, Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt won the prize for uniqueness when she donned a yellow and shell-pink satin dress embroidered with tinsel, gilt and silver thread and came as Electric Light. The Vanderbilts' had their faults, but they most definitely weren't cheap. Mrs. Cornelius had her costume was designed by the great couturier, Worth.
|Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt as Electric Light, 1883
|Electric Light Costume
|A wine bottle costume worn by an unidentified lady. But how cute is that? I love the cap!
|A Turkish themed costume, designed by no less that Worth.
Do masquerades or fancy dress balls appeal to you? If you could go to a party dressed as anything in the world and the costume was guaranteed to look lovely on you, who, or what, would you go as?
Influenced by books like The Secret Garden and The Little Princess, Lisa Karon Richardson’s early books were heavy on boarding schools and creepy houses. Now that she’s (mostly) all grown-up she still loves a healthy dash of adventure and excitement in any story she creates, even her real-life story. She’s been a missionary to the Seychelles and Gabon and now that she and her husband are back in America, they are tackling a brand new adventure, starting a daughter-work church in a new city. Her newest novel, The Magistrate’s Folly just released February 5th!