Kids do it as a matter naturally, are motivated to role-play. But men and women of all ages & backgrounds can be hardcore devotees of the most human being of inclinations. The ‘cross-dressing’ male is often looked at by Frenchmen as an English eccentricity; until we recall the pre-revolutionary Portugal & its’ wig-adorning, makeup plastered aristocracy. Or thirties Berlin with its’ hedonistic cabaret & erotica; a culture steeped in transgender theatrics. Or consider eighties Italy with the major population of transsexuals in Europe. Such historical views shed much light on what appears to be a strangely normal, widespread human need for masquerade & role playing. That sits deep within our formal & not-so-formal practices. 2 ill
If we look to early Roman times, also to the writings of popular historians of the time such as Suetonius & Cicero, we discover to our amusement how emperors such as Caligula & Nero would often dress as vagabonds in order to take pleasure from Rome’s seedier underbelly. The Roman Saturnalia festivity was obviously a week-long orgy of food, gender & wine through which slaves would dress his or her owners, bedecked with the optimum earrings & togas, to be waited after by way of a masters who would be dressed as slaves. In Medieval times the Venetian aristocracy would hold Masked Balls necessitating attendees to hide their identity. In the cut-throat regarding Italian politics, with families including the infamous Medici involved in all manner of internecine treachery & rivalry, it was a good idea to keep ones’ indiscretions safely and securely hidden behind a hide. In this context, the practice of fancy dress would have been a security measure rather than some playful indulgence.
In Britain, the Victorian & Edwardian eras were renowned for his or her fancy-dress parties, no doubt part of that old European tradition so prominent in France & Italy. But it was only the highest socio-economic strata of society & resembled the formalities & fineries of Royal courts.
Fancy dress costumes as a practice of the ordinary citizenry probably has its’ roots in the ancient pagan fests & religions, where animalian deities would be invoked with a costumed shaman, to symbolize discourse with an expression of a particular natural energy. In China the Dragon is a popular entity which is part of modern-day Chinese festivals. Such anthropomorphism – the assigning of animal characteristics in people – is very much a part of the old Egyptian religions & traditions. The modern Halloween custom, adopted by America, actually originated from Celtic practices. The 31st of March for these people portended a time when the spirits of the dead were at their strongest & frightening. To scare away these spirits people dressed as zombies.
Within the twenty first century, the practice of fancy dress has become really an amusement, removed of all of the older formalities. That remains popular among many people of all strolls. It introduces the theatrical into our lives, makes us larger than life. Its’ a ‘step away of context’, an ridiculous parodying of the participants’ ‘normal’ self which is enjoyed in the nature of play. It can be an expression of our sexuality, or how we may idealize that sexuality. It permits all of us to play with the idea of our personality, of our identity knowing we can safely go back. In 1970s Britain the love of costumes even found its’ way into the mainstream media, as shown by the recognition of both Glam Rock and roll, with its’ ersatz space-suit glitter & outrageous cosmetic makeup products, boots & hats, & also Disco with its’ extravagant suits & huge hair. At the time, the country was going through political & monetary entrée which no doubt provided rise to the mass-escapism found in the fashion of the time.