Fancy dress costume, ca. 1870
Charles Frederick Worth (French, born England, 1825–1895)
Cream and blue silk taffeta, gold metallic, white silk tulle
Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Designated Purchase Fund, 1983 (2009.300.1363a,b)
In late nineteenth-century Europe and America, invitees to elaborate costume balls went to great lengths and expense in planning their "fancy dress" attire. Those who could afford it commissioned the House of Worth to manifest their fantasies. This rare costume is in fact an authentic Turkish woman's ensemble, heavily embroidered in gold by Turkish artisans, that was refashioned at the House of Worth into the form-fitting silhouette of the 1870s. The voluminous drawstring pants retain their original form, but the formerly loose bodice was completely remade, presumably at the behest of the client, and the embroidery artifully integrated into the new cut of the garment. It was not uncommon for couture clients of the era to commission custom designs using fabrics or decorative trims they had purchased themselves, often during their travels.
Fancy dress balls originated in London and Paris in the early eighteenth century as masquerades held in public spaces and developed into more structured indoor events in the nineteenth century. Costumes evoking what was perceived as the "exoticism of the East," especially Turkey, were a perennial theme of choice, culminating in Paul Poitier's famed 1002nd Night Ball of 1911.