People have been dressing up in costumes for hundreds of years but fancy dress balls were at their most popular during the nineteenth century. The wealthy spent large sums of money on their fancy dress costumes and there was competition amongst ball guests to have the best costume.
Canterbury Museum holds a number of fancy dress costumes. One of the most spectacular, this magnificent Elizabethan-style fancy dress, was worn by Mrs Lucy Ellen Sykes Studholme to a ball at Government House in the 1870s. Lucy’s husband John was a member of the Canterbury Provincial Council from 1857 and was later a member of the New Zealand Parliament. Lucy would have been in her mid to late thirties when she wore this gown.
A ball at Government House was a very grand affair and competition for being the best dressed guest would have been fierce. This dress would have been expensive: it is made from soft plush velvet with seal skin. The sleeves, bodice and ruff are edged in heavy point lace and glass beads and paste pearls decorate the bodice and skirt of the dress. Despite being made to be worn for just one event, this garment was very well-made and it looks beautiful close up.
The costume was worn again during the 1950 Cavalcade of Fashion, a historical fashion parade styled by Canterbury Museum’s own honorary Curator of Costume, Miss Rose Reynolds. On closer examination of the garment, you can see the slight alterations that have been made for its outing in 1950: there are additional rows of hooks and eyes and snap fasteners have been added to the bodice.
The costume came to Canterbury Museum in 1951, gifted by a descendant of Lucy Studholme.