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A fancy dress party (British English) or a costume party (American English) is a type of party, common mainly in contemporary Western culture, where guests dress up in costumes. Costumed Halloween parties are popular in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The origins of fancy dress parties in the United Kingdom can in some respects be traced to masked balls of the 18th century period. In the period to 1850, fancy dress balls were a typical part of the social life of music festivals.
Notable amongst early events in the 20th century was the Chelsea Arts Club ball. Such events were often elaborate affairs and for the most part confined to those with considerable means.
Amongst the general population, costume parties also occurred with increasing frequency from the late 1940s onward, although for the most part the costumes were simple affairs until the mid-1970s. Prior to 'cheap' costume imports from the Far East (late 1990s) most costumes were either hired, or home constructed. Retail purchased costumes is, in respect of the UK, a largely modern phenomenon (late 1990s onward) although 'accessory' items had been available for some time. Since the increased import rate in late 1990's onwards saw the many materials / products being imported from the Far East with cost savings in labour and bulk orders. This has seen the price of purchased costumes becoming more and more affordable.
Coupled with the modern trend in costume parties, 'retro' fashion as a costume theme (such as a 1970s or 1980s fancy dress) is also popular, the costumes to some extent parodying or pastiching the fashions of earlier decades. Amongst the most popular parodied costumes are: Audrey Hepburn (as Holly Golightly), Madonna in her classic stage outfits, and more recently Lady Gaga.
Fancy dress parties are popular year round in the United Kingdom. The 1996 novel Bridget Jones's Diary features the classic British costume party theme "Vicars and Tarts". Fancy dress parties have been held by the British Royal Family. Prince William celebrated his 21st birthday with an "Out of Africa" theme, Princess Beatrice chose an 1888 themed party for her 18th birthday, and Freddie and Gabriella Windsor celebrated a joint birthday party with a pre-French Revolution courtly theme. Prince Harry infamously wore an Afrika Corps uniform with a Nazi armband to a "Colonials and Natives" themed party in January 2005. There was a large international outcry after the Sunday tabloid News of the World published a photo of him in the costume.
Australian fancy dress parties typically follows the style of the United States, and Halloween costume parties have been common since the early 1990s, even though Halloween has not historically been a celebrated event in Australia. Typical events for Australians that involve dressing up are the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, the staff Christmas party and cricket matches.
One of the oldest examples of fancy dress being worn in Australia is on display at the Western Australia Museum. It was a child's fancy dress costume worn by Miss Rita Lloyd, aged nine, to the ‘Lord Mayor’s Juvenile Fancy Dress Ball’ at Mansion House in Perth on 8 January 1909.
Costume parties are especially popular in the United States around Halloween, when teenagers and adults who may be considered too old for trick-or-treating attend a costume party instead. Costume parties are also popular during the carnival season, such as at Mardi Gras.
Attendees occasionally dress in costume for popular science fiction and fantasy events, movie openings and book releases. Web site theonering.net held a The Lord of the Rings dress Oscar party that was attended by Peter Jackson. Star Wars parties were held to celebrate the opening of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Many bookstores have held Harry Potter themed parties to celebrate the releases of the series' later novels, and some movie theaters have had Potter-themed celebrations as the movie adaptations have been released.
Cosplay (short for "costume play") is a type of costume party where attendees dress as fictional characters. Cosplay originated in Japan, where most cosplay is modelled after popular anime shows and video game characters. Anime conventions including New York Anime Festival, comic book conventions including San Diego Comic-Con International and New York Comic-Con have held cosplay parties.
Events and themes
Halloween is the most popular costume or fancy dress event of the year in western society. Halloween originated centuries ago, the Celts believed that on 31 October the line between the living and the dead became distorted, condemned souls would come back to wreak havoc for the night. In defense the Celts would dress up in ghoulish costumes to scare evil spirits away.
Within many fancy dress events a theme is usually present, and with fancy dress outfits often from Hollywood films such as Star Wars, Grease, James Bond and Spider-Man. Themes are also extremely popular with fundraising events, such as the Great Gorilla Run, where 1,000 people dressed as gorillas in London in aid for Great Gorillas, a charity that focuses on the endangered species.
Some costume parties are themed around 80s fashion. The most popular costumes researched for such fancy dress are the Madonna Look, punk fashion and neon-colored clothing. Some of the easiest and cheapest 1980s costumes include Rambo, Samantha Fox and Tom Cruise from Risky Business or Top Gun. Alternate eighties costumes include dresses, prom dresses and denim from the period, including high waisted pants and stone wash denim.
Fans sometimes attend sporting events in a costume as a sign of support of their favored team. Some sporting events have large numbers of fans attending in fancy dress costume, notably the Wellington Rugby Sevens where almost every fan who attends wears some sort of costume.
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