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A History Of Fancy Dresses – From Masquerade Balls To Morph Suits

They’re surfing the net looking for a cheap disguise. You’ll find a hilarious selection of morphological or pirate costumes that will make you and your friends stand out from the crowd. Click, click, click, click, and it’s sorted. But have you ever wondered where this strange habit comes from? Why do we go to parties like… Well, dressed as someone else?

Like most Western customs, religion played a key role in the creation of the modern costume party. It all started with Lent. These forty days and forty nights recall the time Jesus spent in the desert. Traditionally, there are no festivals or celebrations during this time, and people avoid rich foods like meat, dairy products, fats – and today chocolate.

Therefore, in the days leading up to Lent, all these products had to be eliminated. What could be better than organizing a big feast where the whole community could gather and make fools of themselves? And then we had the carnival.

Venice Carnival

Some carnival-style celebrations are older than those of the Christian era, such as the ancient Roman festivals of Saturnalia and Bacanal. However, they were most likely absorbed by the Italian Masked Ball, which gave rise to the world-famous Venice Carnival, which began forty days before Easter and ended on Shrove Tuesday (known locally as Martes de Carnaval or Martedi Grasso). It was here that the use of masks began, with Venetian masqueraders (mascherans) taking a special place in society with their own laws and guilds.

Unfortunately, there is no concrete evidence as to why the use of masks became widespread, but it is believed that it was a reaction to the extremely strict class structures of Venetian society. The use of a mask allowed people to be treated equally between the feast of Santo Stefano (December 26) and Shrove Tuesday, and again between October 5 and Christmas. This allowed the citizens to spend most of the year in costume.

Masked balls and the like were a feature of many Shakespearean plays, often with tragic consequences. Aphra Behn’s Rover followed a similar theme, the play set in the Venice Carnival, in which the characters hide their identity and thus free themselves from inhibitions. This type of masked festival gained popularity throughout Europe between the 15th and 18th centuries, with masked balls being a kind of game in which guests were asked to try and guess who the others were.

Although with the fall of the Republic of Venice the use of traditional masks decreased and finally disappeared completely, the preparatory work for the costume festival was already complete. In the Victorian era, people started wearing costumes again at festivals, and the Edwardians continued the revival. In the early 20th century, these were simple affairs, where costumes were rented or made to order. Not surprisingly, things became a little more extravagant in the 1970s, and then in the 1990s, cheap imports from Asia allowed the industry to grow at an impressive rate.

Today, retro themes such as costumes from the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s are popular, including iconic costumes from those eras such as Elvis Presley, Madonna and John Lennon. It is common for a birthday party dress code to reflect the person’s decade of birth. Ironic/taboo themes such as vicars and nuns are addressed at bachelor and bachelorette parties, and recently children have been taken to school during “Book Week” as strange and wonderful creations by Roald Dahl, among others.


However, all these themes pale in comparison to the Halloween costume party, which has slightly different origins – although here too, of course, religion was the driving force. Centuries ago the Celts dressed up in ghostly costumes to scare away evil spirits. The festival of Samhain (which means the end of summer, but falls on the last day of autumn) was a time to take stock and prepare for the cold months ahead. It was thought to be the time of year when the physical and supernatural worlds were closest to each other, and huge bonfires were built to scare away the spirits. The help of the gods was invoked through animal and sometimes even human sacrifices.

In the Christian era, this tradition was developed on All Saints’ Day (also called All Souls’ Day) and All Souls’ Day, which fall on November 1 and 2 respectively. It was a time when saints were honored and prayers were said for the newly deceased who had not yet reached heaven. Since it was believed that the souls of the dead roamed the earth until those days, masks and disguises were worn so that they would not be recognized by a soul that wanted to take revenge on its enemies.

Trick or treat” began in the Middle Ages and still resembles the medieval custom of “desecration”, in which the poor went from door to door to pray for the dead and receive food in return. This custom originated in Great Britain and Ireland but traveled to Italy, where it again played a role in Shakespeare’s The Two Knights of Verona.

In Scotland and Ireland, “disguises” – children who dress up and then go door to door – were first recorded in 1895. They carried lanterns made of hollowed-out turnips and were rewarded with cake, fruit, and money. The first recorded case in North America dates back to 1911 when an Ontario newspaper reported on children dressing up in the neighborhood.

Even today, traditional games are still played on Halloween: When banging on apples, participants only use their teeth to pull the apples out of a bowl, while another favorite is eating syrup or syrup-coated buns or candy apples hanging from ropes, which inevitably leads to a sticky face. Some games appear to be forms of fortune-telling, such as carving an apple into a long strip and then throwing it over the shoulder, with the skin supposedly spelling out the first letter of the participant’s future spouse. In 1900, a game was played with nutshells. Fates were written on a paper with milk, and when dry, they were placed on nutshells. When heated, the milk turned brown and the “fortune” appeared on a supposedly blank paper.

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