It took me two years of living in the UK to fully realize the meaning—and cultural significance—of ‘fancy dress’.Until very recently, I had always envisioned (in my mind) this term’s literal definition: formal attire worn to special or high profile social events. For young ladies, this would entail short, flouncy party dresses held up by wide, umpire waist belts and accented with ridiculously high heels/an elaborately teased hairstyle.
Boy was I wrong! Unless, of course, the ‘fancy dress’ theme du jour is ‘overpriced Mayfair club’.
Fancy dress parties, I have come to understand, can entail almost anything imaginable—from superheroes, to secretaries, to Sponge Bobs, to Scary Spices—and are hugely popular social events, year round.It’s no wonder that my two (English) flatmates jumped at the opportunity to host a Halloween party, instead of a housewarming party, at our new London flat. “Ooooh, fancy dress! Yes, let’s!”The signature American Halloween traditions—pumpkin carving, trick-or-treating, haunted houses, glow-in-the-dark skeleton decorations, spooky costumes, etc.—most of my British pals could take ‘em or leave ‘em. But given an opportunity to dress in costume, they will rise to the challenge—and go all out.Whether you are an American living abroad or a fancy dress-loving Brit, chances are, with Halloween less than two weeks away, you’ve pondered a few costume ideas…and scoped out different Halloween celebration options. You may even be hosting your own fancy dress party! Have you decided on a costume? Found the right decorations? You don’t have much time…Lucky for you, I’ve done some homework.Yesterday, I set out to find some of the best costume and party decoration shops in London. I came across a few gems and will be searching for more next week, so get excited!Fancy Dress and Party Decoration shops in London, Part 1.Carnival95 Hammersmith RoadLondonW14 0QHUpon entry, this place seems like a claustrophobic wig and accessory factory, with rows and rows of colourful synthetic hairdos, beards, and even sideburns lined up floor to ceiling…columns of feather boas, masks, hats, beads, gloves, you name it!
I was disappointed, however, to see no full costumes (much less a beach tourist or a pumpkin getup—the options that I am considering this year) and was just about to leave when I saw a sign about the shop’s Costume Hire Policy.What costumes? Where?
The sweet saleswoman (who spoke very little English—I suggest going in with a clear idea of what you need!) then led me to the back of the store, through a narrow doorway and into an even more claustrophobic room, which was overflowing with…costumes! Medieval princes, Greek goddesses, Cabaret dancers, Native American warriors…definitely something for everyone. I was officially overwhelmed.
You must enter Carnival with a clear focus and plenty of time/patience. There are hundreds of costume options, all arranged by theme, but there is only one changing ‘area’ amidst the chaos in the back—you may have to temporarily abandon your modesty…Non Stop Party Shop214-216 Kensington High StreetLondonW8 7RGThis franchise has shops throughout London and the South East, including one one Kensington High Street, which I had the pleasure of visiting yesterday. It was definitely a huge contrast from Carnival—while they do carry costumes, their specialty is party decorations/favours, which they tailor to all occasions. They currently have an impressive range of Halloween Party decorations, some of which I found to be highly amusing:
They also carry a fairly large selection of affordable, ‘bagged’ costumes in their basement:
(Sorry – I couldn’t help myself, but is this costume model for real??)Definitely stop here if you need something quick/simple…or if you are looking for some humorous decorations…or if you just want to check out the above costume in person.
‘Stay tuned’ for Chapter 2: East London (which actually ended up being about costume shops in CENTRAL London)