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Library Guides

Fashion History in the University Archive: Fancy Dress

An overview of resources held by the University Archive

Fancy Dress

Fancy Dress was enormously popular during Queen Victoria’s reign, helped by her own enthusiasm for the pastime. It formed a regular component of the Polytechnic’s annual New Year’s Party and Fete, with prizes awarded for the best costumes. The Archive holds a number of photographs of the winners, with many more printed in the Polytechnic Magazine (digitised and available online).

A fancy dress party in 1910 or 1911

Women at a fancy dress party sometime around 1910


Throughout the 1920s and 30s, historical pageants were  hugely popular in the UK. These were also incorporated into the Polytechnic's New Year celebrations and formed the basis of the Polytechnic’s contribution to the 1928 Lord Mayor’s Parade. The Polytechnic presented a pageant of Students Through The Ages, with costumes designed by Dorothy Hartley. Dorothy Hartley was an art teacher at the Polytechnic, and would go on to write a book called Medieval Costume and Life.

The Lord Mayor's Show in 1928

Men in fancy dress wheeling large statues through the streets of London in 1928