Fancy dress parties have been around since for centuries and were particularly popular in Europe during 16th and 17th centuries. Italy is particularly well known for contributing to popularity of fancy dress parties. There, masquerade ball reached frenzied proportions. By time Queen Victoria took throne much of Europe, especially England, had lost its appetite for masquerade but still had a keen interest in fancy dress parties. The Queen's interest in literature, poetry and history had a tremendous impact on themes for fancy dress parties throughout her long reign.
During a time when Europeans entertained often and lavishly, fancy dress parties were often called upon to break up monotony of what might have been another otherwise boring social event. Almost any notable figure in history and literature was likely to spur imaginations of fancy dress party guests. While characters from literature, especially Shakespearean plays, remained popular choices for fancy dress parties throughout much of century; a quest for increasingly unique and creative costumes began to appear.
Fancy dress parties were concentrated among those who could afford to devote time and money to such lavish events; however that didn't mean that a few peasants didn't make their way onto guest list. Throughout most of 19th century there remained a keen interest in less fortunate as subject for possible fancy dress costumes. This interest was more likely than not spurred by fact that peasant style costumes gave ladies opportunity to step outside their normally rather strict social codes. While it would have been unthinkable to appear dressed in a ensemble that allowed too much cleavage or ankles to show at any other event; much could be forgiven when inspired by fancy dress parties.