February 23, 1876: Costumes for the Governor General’s Fancy Dress Ball

Just as we do today, some Victorians loved a good themed costume party. On February 23, of 1876, the Governor General of Canada, Lord Dufferin, hosted a fancy dress ball. The photographer William James Topley, who photographed the who’s who of Canadian society for half a century, had many of them sit for a portrait the month afterwards. Here are some of their costumes. (Click for info and to enlarge.)


You can recognize some trends that we still have in Hallowe’en costumes today. You have the fun costumes like the court jester, whose costume wouldn’t be out of place today. You have people dressed as cool historical figures. You have people dressed as an entire race or group of people, like the Spanish Matador or the North American Trapper. You have women dressed in “sexy” costumes like the Fishwife from Newhaven and the Brigand Queen. (Those old chestnuts!) I for one absolutely adore the two women dressed as Britannia and the Dominion of Canada. Did they choose to go in these complementary costumes together, or did they discover it at the ball itself, unknowingly dressing as a pair?

All images are courtesy of Library and Archives Canada.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s