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Fancy Dress

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Once reserved for trick or treating children on Halloween night, fancy dress has now become an industry driven by trend, popular media figures and caricatures, and lifestyle concepts which can be transformed and represented through costume.

When one explores the fancy dress industry in the hunt for influential trends and popular concepts, it appears as though the main success of fancy dress relies on the parties and occasion sector – with guests most often taking to fancy dress when it is part of a condition of invitation to a particular event. And while bricks and mortar fancy dress stores still hold onto their firm position in local marketplaces, the ease of online ordering has meant that sales through ecommerce sites like Amazon are performing exceptionally well – showcasing not only the ease of ordering online but also the vast range of options available through an ecommerce parent site.

One of the key challenges with the fancy dress sector comes with its financial prospects, with buyers tending to opt for those costumes which sit at the lower end of the pricing spectrum – largely because they are unwilling to channel the same finances into a fancy dress costume as they might a standard outfit. This has made sales in bricks and mortar and specialist fancy dress stores more difficult – leading to the subsequent rise in ecommerce marketplace offerings, as well as the option of renting costumes from high street stores. Add to this the range of different discounts and deals which these stores use to promote various costumes on a seasonal basis, and you very quickly begin to realise how and why the fancy dress industry is still so popular across all age groups.

The evolution of the fancy dress industry

The concept of fancy dress largely stems from the era of the masquerade ball, starting as early as the 14th century when royal families were celebrated during the carnival season. By the 16th century, this tradition had expanded to include the public as well as royalty, though it still only really attracted the wealthiest families who would don masks and cloaks and dance the night away. Venice is of particular prominence in the rise of the masquerade ball, with citizens taking to the idea in a huge way, before the tradition expanded into Europe around the 18th century.

From early 18th century, people could buy tickets to attend masquerade parties in theatres and sites of cultural significance, with some simply dressing in classic evening dress while others threw themselves into theatre and historical inspired characters. Despite its popularity however, the masquerade era was not to last – with many calling it immoral and linking the idea of masquerade with increased sexual misbehaviour and poor social standards. The anti-masquerade movement forced the movement to cease, and so by the 19th century, the idea of masquerade and fancy dress had died an untimely death.

What did this mean? Retailers, revellers and creators had to find new ways of injecting fun and fancy into their parties and events – with ladies in particular finding ways of factoring fancy dress accessories and features into their existing evening gowns rather than completely overhauling their entire outfit. This allowed them to appear prim and proper, while still acknowledging the presence of a dress code – and while most of these outfits would be custom-made in line with the woman’s specific demands and requests, the next 100 years saw more and more individuals learning the skills of creating their own costumes for themselves.

Fancy dress through the ages

By ages, we mean the various age groups and categories which are served by the fancy dress market – with retailers and costume specialists having to stay on top of the different trends occurring across different generations in order to keep up with demand for particularly popular characters with their varying demographic and target audiences. A key example of this is the immense popularity of Disney princesses with young girls, who want to dress up as the latest princess – back in 2014, the overwhelming demand for Elsa and Anna costumes from Frozen meant that any fancy dress retailer which couldn’t sell or hire out a good costume was quickly flung aside in favour of one which could.

In fact, the children’s fancy dress costume industry is the one which offers the widest array of options in terms of retail specialists and availability, with Disney characters and princesses offering a great insight into the vast range of fancy dress product available – from the high end and official costumes and merchandise produced and sold by Disney themselves in their retail stores and parks, through to affordable fancy dress options available on Amazon and eBay and other discounted stores, right through to handmade creations and costumes crafted from ordinary clothes tailored to fit a specific character. And Disney is just one example of the children’s fancy dress industry which spans a great deal further than the local fancy dress boutique store – encompassing global solutions to various characters from the likes of Nickelodeon, Marvel, Star Wars and more.

Moving on to the adult fancy dress industry, this is where options tend to become a little more specific in terms of where they can be found – with retail stores unlikely to stock fancy dress products beyond the possible cat tail or witches hat for Halloween. The fact is, in the adult world, fancy dress is very much a part of the occasions and party sector, with costumes very unlikely to be worn outside of a specific event. This means that while adults are looking for funny and often witty costume options which allow them to embrace the theme of a specific event, they are not looking to spend lots of money on the costume and are unlikely to wear it more than once. This makes the fancy dress for adult’s industry extremely fluid and likely to change at a moment’s notice according to current trends and fashions, while the children’s costume industry is much more solid in its foundations around popular characters and movies.

Top retailers in the fancy dress industry

Between the community fancy dress stores, global and national chain stores, and ecommerce marketplace giants, the range of costume outlets and retailers available is wide ranging; encompassing all manner of different price points and retail sectors.

Top retail options include:

  • Amazon
  • eBay
  • Etsy
  • Smiffys
  • Hollywood.UK
  • Angels Fancy Dress
  • Disney Store
  • Party Delights
  • Argos

Trends in the fancy dress industry

One of the overriding trends which has an impact on the fancy dress industry is the reliance of various careers on costumes, and the way in which mainstream media and popular trends can play a huge impact on the most popular characters-for-hire and celebrity lookalikes which are demanded for different seasons and events. From Santa Claus lookalikes for Christmas, through to Disney Princess lookalikes to roam the parks and run kids’ parties, through to complete body suits which transform individuals into cartoons and caricatures, the entertainment industry is intrinsically linked with fancy dress and with embodying the persona of someone else – calling on the fancy dress industry to be able to keep up with this demand and cater to it all through the year.

Another trend which links with the reliance of mainstream media in dictating which characters are popular during the course of the year, also looks at which types of fancy dress are all but blacklisted by their association with mainstream media – for example the rise in fear of clown fancy dress outfits ever since the release of IT (a popular horror film based on a murderous clown). Of course, all of this plays heavily in with media trends and movies, but the fact remains that if a certain type of individual costume or theme is linked with something horrifying, buyers and customers will be put off using that trend in the coming seasons.

The rise in youth and student fancy dress parties and nights out, particularly on and around University campuses, has played a big part in the resurrection of fancy dress in younger people over the last couple of decades, with entire evening events being linked to and encouraging various levels of fancy dress. Similarly, music festivals now use fancy dress and costumes to encourage guests to adhere to a particular theme, with many of these platforms and outlets offering prizes for the best fancy dress costumes and the most dedicated wearers at the event. As was argued back in the 19th century, the fancy dress industry is still underpinned by a certain controversy, even with the freedom that society as a whole enjoys in the modern era of today. The presence of X-rated and adult fancy dress costumes in stores and on sites which are also designed to market and advertise children’s costumes is enough to put many buyers off – with retailers and brands often putting a great deal of focus into separating the various areas of their collections and ensuring that marketing and advertising is extremely targeted so as to only appeal to a buyers preferences.

And then we come to the growing trend for handmade costumes and costumes which think outside the box – moving away from popular and notable figures and characters, and towards ideas which project more of a concept or a lifestyle selection rather than an identifiable person. A great example of this is partnership costumes whereby two individuals attend a fancy dress event together – each dressed up as something completely random but when placed together they make complete sense: for example, one dressing up as a fish and one as a portion of chips to make “fish and chips”, or one dressing up as a dalmatian puppy and the other as Cruella Deville. As a popular industry concept, this has led to a complete overhaul in the way that many retailers approach fancy dress, leading to a huge rise in the number of fancy dress retailers and stockists which are providing inspiring and unique ideas as well as believable costumes. Another way of approaching this which is similar in its random approach but which can be worn by a single user, is the rise in the popularity of fancy dress costumes which make a political or social statement – for example somebody who chooses to dress up as ‘racism’ or as ‘climate change’ – or even as the earth with a bandage on, to show how the planet is being damaged by climate change. These are the fancy dress costumes designed to make an impact all of their own, using the shock factor to drive home important comments and opinions, and which are designed to make headlines and draw attention.

Our final trend is the influence of celebrities and social media in driving forward the fancy dress industry, with a whole variety of costume trends coming into the spotlight after being worn by a celebrity as part of their own high end A-list event – including the political and social commentary costumes touched on above. This all pivots on the idea that “if it’s a good enough idea for them, it’s good enough for me” – with tons of magazines and articles appearing prior to Halloween every single year giving a detailed breakdown about costumes worn by celebrities in previous years and offering suggestions on which looks may be popular that coming year. Popular examples include Brie Larson dressing as Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake donning a microphone costume, and Katy Perry dressing up as a Cheeto crisp.

When it comes to sourcing and selecting the perfect fancy dress costume, whether it’s for a child or for an adult, setting the right tone in line with the party or event’s theme and dress code is important – with children’s costumes much more likely to be selected with quality in mind while adult costumes are often created to bring humour and wit to a look but without costing a great deal. To find the best selection of vouchers applicable to any given season, and to ensure you find the best priced costumes, visit our Fancy Dress vouchers page.

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