Fancy dress

Dragons, cowboys, fairies and magpies were alive and well at the Elizabeth Bay House.

An exhibition at Elizabeth Bay House brought back many childhood memories of the times spent dressing up for a special occasion or just for fun.

Fancy Dress featured over 40 fancy dress costumes and associated memorabilia dating from 1870 to the present as well as almost 100 photographs. They all reflected the imagination and magical moments which are a vital part of being a child.

Lindie Ward and Kate Murray, co-curators of the exhibition, uncovered fascinating stories during the sourcing of these objects. One example is the tiny shoe worn by Edward VII in 1846 when he dressed up as Henry VIII. 'The Blue Boy Suit, as its owners call it, was saved from the rubbish by the great granddaughter of its original owner. It was made in England for Grace Bros, Sydney from dark navy velvet and has silk sleeve inserts and a lace collar. Three generations of boys have worn the costume since 1918’, said Kate Murray.

'The magpie suit was a popular exhibit with its crepe paper feathers mounted on fabric wings. It was made for Alan Miller to celebrate the sesquicentenary of European settlement of Australia in 1938’, said Lindie Ward.

Many of the costumes were sourced from the community. Included were a Santa suit adapted from an 1890s swimming costume, a pink dress made of crepe paper in the 1950s, a miniature soldier suit worn by David Atkins in 1965 and a selection of cowboys and film characters. The Little Boe Peep costume came from our own Rouse Hill estate collection and there was a costume from the opening ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games from the Powerhouse Museum. Some of the costumes had been beautifully made by professionals and others made by people with little experience in needlework.

The costumes represented themes including Celebration, Australiana, Stories and Rhymes, Making-do and Crepe Paper.

Australian children love dressing up. Whether it be as Little Bo-Peep, cowgirls and cowboys, Little Miss Muffet or a clown, children have always enjoyed escaping into the world of make-believe in fancy dress costumes. The Fancy Dress exhibition was a delight for young and old. It offered inspiration and the chance to reminisce about childhood dress-ups. Costumes on display included a Santa suit adapted from an 1890s swimming costume, a packaged Zorro outfit from the 1970s, a snowdrop costume from 1919 and many more.

Dressing up in fancy dress costume is an experience many children have enjoyed at home and in schoolyards throughout Australia. This exhibition explored our fascination with fancy dress.

Children who came in fancy dress were admitted free of charge!

The exhibition was held in collaboration with the Powerhouse Museum

24 June 2001 - 2 May 2002

Become a member

Enjoy free entry to our latest exhibitions for you and up to 4 kids.

Join now