The eternal attractions of fancy dress

the book:

Justice Hall by Laurie R King

published 2002    set in 1923


I had no intention of getting caught up in the fray, and made along the front wall of the Great Hall in the direction of the western wing, but even that backwater was pulsing with full-throated conversation. I edged around a three-sided argument involving a woman wearing a sort of Roumanian peasant gown with a multitude of scarfs over it, a tall, cadaverous man with a handful of turquoise chips hanging from his right ear-lobe, and a short plump individual in a man’s lounge suit who might have been male or female. This last person wore a small ill-tempered spider monkey on the left shoulder of the suit; the creature was plucking irritably at the jewelled collar and gold chain that kept it from leaping to the heights. I gave the monkey wide berth, nearly knocked into a huge betasselled sombrero someone had perched on a marble bust of the third Duke, avoided the peculiar green drink thrust in my direction by a woman dressed predominantly in beads and fringe, and escaped.

observations: This isn’t even a fancy-dress [US: costume] party, though a fancy-dress ball will feature at the end of the book. These are just some rather louche friends of the slightly villainous (or at least very much looked-down-on) Darling family, and they seem to have wandered in from an early Evelyn Waugh novel – more Vile Bodies than this week’s Handful of Dust - and don’t have a huge impact on the plot. Though they form quite a cheerful background, they sit strangely with the Darlings’ keenness to be gentry, and in other circs would surely be friends of heroine Mary and her bohemian friends, and not to be despised. And another unreasonable complaint: the possibilities offered by the Egyptian Ball at the end of the book are sadly wasted though Mary’s costume as a young Arab boy does sound lovely.

There are a perhaps surprising number of pictures of fancy-dress parties available on the web: it is most enjoyable, but also touching, to sift through them, looking at those amateurish efforts, the inspired home dress-making, the hats resembling lampshades. It is, apparently, an eternal human instinct to dress up in something daft and have fun.

Links up with: the book has featured on the blog
before, explaining the Sherlock Holmes connection. The rules of fancy dress parties are given an outing here. These clothes sound like fancy dress but are definitely professional working gear. Jane Thynne’s Weighing of the Heart has another 1920s fancy dress party.

The photo is from the Jewish Historical Society of the MidWest, and can be found on
Flickr. Isn’t that the UK’s new comedy heroine (and star of Call the Midwife) Miranda Hart in the back row, 50 years before she was born?


  1. Moira - Fancy -dress parties are so much fun, and I've read a number of good novels in which they play a role, however small, in what happens. Even if it's just background, they can add a bit of depth and even fun to a novel. Thanks for the thoughtful revview.

  2. Great picture. It looks like they are all having fun!

  3. Fancy dress parties adds more fun to life. It may look silly for some. But it is not so. It makes us to get to know about many characters that have created impact on each one.


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