Fancy Dress Social – 1901

I love a fancy dress party and thinking up ideas for costumes, so you can imagine my joy when I found this article on Trove from the Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday 18 May 1901.

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The annual plain and fancy dress ball in aid of the Wyong School of Arts was held on the 10th instant, and was both financially and socially a great success.

The hall was decorated with greenery, bunting, &c., and a well-arranged programme of dances was carried out to the music of Buman’s orchestra, the extras being played by the Misses Woodbury. Mr. Henry Rees acted as M.C.

Amongst the fancy costumes were Mrs. Grace, who represented “Folly,” Miss Robley “Spring,” Miss Waters as “Summer,” Miss Smith “Autumn,” Miss Murray “Winter,” Miss Chapman as Dalmatia, Miss W. B. Chapman as Sorrentine, Miss Maud Woodbury “Luna,” Miss Amy Woodbury as “My Guiding Star,” Miss Lily Woodbury represented a butterfly, Miss O’Donnell an Irish lassie, Miss Gascoigne a baby, Miss A. Gascoigne went as “Violets,” Miss Wellings “Zingara,” Miss Waters as a nurse, Mr. Thurston a clog dancer, Mr. Hughes represented Petruchio, Mr. A. J. Chapman a French valet, Mr. W. A. Chapman “Dr. William,” Mr. R. Campbell a French cook, Mr. E. Bridge a stockman, Mr. Dempster as Jim Harris in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” Mr. B. C. Mills went as a naval officer, and Messrs. McMahon and Salmon in Australian Rifles costumes.

Amongst others present were: – Mr. and Mrs. Rees, Mrs. Chapman, Mr. and Mrs. Stafford, Mr. and Mrs. E. Woodbury, Mrs. Mills, Miss Gooch, Mr. and Mrs. John Smith, Miss Breckenridge, Miss Dark, Miss Baker, and Messrs. E. J. Beahan, Thomas Grace, G. Goldsmith, jun., J. J. Field, Thomas Lloyd, W. B. Woodbury, Charles Woodbury, Robley, H. Waters, Th. Breakwell, G. P. Caedell, and Leslie Morris.

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I found descriptions of all the above costumes in Fancy dresses described; or, what to wear at fancy balls, by Ardern Holt published in 1896. It contains some terrific illustrations in colour and black and white by Miss Lilian Young.

Mrs. Grace's fancy dress costume represented “Folly” or fun. Her outfit may have been similar to this, bordered with streamers and bells with a fool’s cap to match.

Mrs. Grace’s fancy dress costume represented “Folly” or fun. Her outfit may have been similar to this, bordered with streamers and bells with a fool’s cap to match.

These costumes may be a bit posh for a turn-of-the-century country social, but the ideas are good. I’m sure the spirit and imagination of our Wyong pioneers were put to good use creating costumes from what they could afford to buy or from what materials they had on-hand.


The four seasons were represented by Miss Robley, Miss Waters, Miss Smith and Miss Murray. Their costumes may have incorporated some of the above ideas.

Miss Chapman’s costume represented “Dalmatia,” the eastern European area of modern-day Croatia. The book gives a description for a suitable costume:

DALMATION. Long white robe, embroidered apron; short velvet bodice resplendent with gold embroidery, many beads round throat; full long sleeves; distaff in hand; white cloth around head, the falling ends edged with gold; girdle round waist. The peasants wear a short red cloth pelisse fastened at waist with girdle. The hair bound round the head in two plaits, interwoven with red braid, covered with a curious helmet head-dress.

0181_Italian Costume_WP

Miss W. B. Chapman’s costume represented “Sorrentine” or the Sorrento region in Italy. The outfit may have included an amber skirt, edged with scarlet, black velvet bodice; white long-sleeve chemise; colourful floral apron and scarlet silk head-dress.

Misses Maud and Amy Woodbury dressed as “Luna” and “My Guiding Star.” The book contains suitable descriptions for both fancy dress costumes:

THE MOON, LUNA, MOONSHINE. A silver-spangled white (or blue) tulle dress, over white stain; a mantle of the same, bordered with lace; silver crescents, introduced on the shoulders, front of the bodice, and skirt; white satin shoes with crescents; silver ornaments and white or silver scarf twisted round the head.

STAR, EVENING STAR, MORNING STAR, NORTHERN STAR, are all rendered after the same order, viz., with either a black, blue or white evening dress, and veil covered with silver stars; ornaments of the same and coronet in the hair with a large star in the centre. Much silver fringe is used on tunic, a glittering effect being desired.

Miss Lily Woodbury was dressed as a butterfly.

Miss Lily Woodbury was dressed as a butterfly. She may have worn a blue gown with wings made of gauze and wire fastened in the middle of her back and a headband with antennae.

Miss O’Donnell was dressed as an Irish Lassie.

Miss O’Donnell was dressed as an Irish lassie. Plenty of ideas here, her costume probably featured a red shawl, green shamrocks and a gold harp.

Misses Amy and Violet Gascoigne, would have been 21 and 19 years of age respectively in May 1901. They were the eldest daughters of Thomas Gascoigne and his first wife Lydia Moon. The news article reads that “Miss A. Gascoigne went as Violets,” which would mean that Violet Gascoigne went as a baby. This may have been mis-reported – it would be more likely that Miss V. Gascoigne went as “Violets.”

Is it too ironic for Miss Violet Gascoigne to go to the social dressed as “Violets”?

Is it too ironic for Violet Gascoigne to go to the social dressed as “Violets”?

Miss Amy Gascoigne was most likely dressed as the baby – she may have worn a long, lace-trimmed infant’s robe and cap, with a rattle hung around her neck, and a doll or toy lamb under her arm.

Miss Waters was dressed as a nurse – her costume probably included a starched muslin cap with ribbons and a round crown; striped gingham gown with high bodice; large muslin lace-edged apron; stockings and suade shoes.


Miss Wellings went dressed as “Zingara” in the style of a Spanish gypsy with gold bracelets, a lace mantilla and a scarf around her waist. She would have held a tambourine trimmed with coloured ribbons.

Some of the men appear to have put a lot of effort into their costumes as well. I wish I could have seen Mr. Hughes dressed as Petruchio from William Shakespeares’ “Taming of the Shrew.”

There are so many pioneering family names mentioned as attending the Wyong fancy dress ball on 10 May, 1901. I would be interested to know if we can identify all the attendees by their Christian names, dates of birth, marriage and death etc. Are any of these folks on your family tree?

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Sources: Susan Buck; Wyong Museum & Historical Society Archives; Trove Digital Newspaper Archive, Fancy dresses described; or, what to wear at fancy balls, Holt, Ardern, Debenham and Freebody, [1896].


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