I have a lovely book. Well, one among many lovely books. I bought it in Wales, in a place blessed among men called Hay-on-Wye. It's chief industry is the selling of books. Over thirty bookstores, in a tiny green town. One store was called The Castle Bookstore. Because, I'm thinking, it was a bookstore…and it was located in a castle. Sometimes my bouts of clear-thinking approach epiphanies.
It was there that I bought a lovely book: "Fancy Dresses Described: What To Wear At Fancy Balls". It was published in 1888, when such matters were more important than they are today. There were no Halloween parties, where the limit to one's dressing up abilities would be wearing a sixpack of Coca Cola for a hat and going as a coke head.
Different costumes were suggested for different physical and age types. Being dark-haired, I would be referred to as a 'Brune'. Suggested outfits for me would include: Arab Lady, Autumn, Bee (which I did go as at the age of nine, one Halloween long ago), Gipsies of various kinds, Carmen, Cleopatra, Druidess, Esmeralda, etc.
The book would list the fabrics and decorations needed for each costume (back then, they didn't come ready made!). If I was to dress as, say, Carmen, I would need an "equisite Spanish lady's dress, short white satin skirt…headed by bands of ruby satin, bordered with gold; down the front bows of gold braid tagged; stay bodice of white satin, with gold buttons…" and on and on. I would find the possibility delicious myself. If you were transplanted to the late 19th century, invited to a fancy dress ball, had your own couterier and unlimited funds – what would you go as?