What is the difference between Fancy Dress, Party Wear, Costumes and Dress Up clothing?

In a word the difference is quality: there are lots of different grades of costumes. Some costumes are exquisite and designed for realistic stage, film, tv or theatre use, whether historically accurate or pure fantasy. At the complete opposite end of the spectrum some costumes are designed for a single use at a party for a bit of extra fun. Children love to wear costumes over and over so medium to high quality dress up / play-wear is usually the best choice for a present and plenty of laughter.

The costume market broadly breaks down into the following sectors although there is some overlap:

  • Stage / Film production / Collectors: Visually accurate costumes where function and comfort is less important than appearance.
  • Carnival / Hire : Robustly made garments designed for use in high wear situations. Typically very good visually and comfortable to wear but can be costly. eg: Veneziano Carnivale
  • Dress Up / Play wear : Fully functional garments that will stand up to washing and repeated use, usually made of conventional fabrics with added features to make a convincing costume.eg: Pretend to Bee
  • Fancy Dress / Party wear: Decorative costumes designed for a party or other single or limited use. Low cost is reflected in fabrics used and standard of finish of seams etc.eg: Rubies

Licensed costumes

These add another dimension to the above as each category includes licensed and unlicensed designs. A licensed product is typically a popular comic, TV, book or film character where the appearance is a registered for example Disney, Marvel, Star Wars, Thunderbirds etc. The manufacturer pays an  (often substantial) license fee to the artist which in turn is passed on to the consumer either as a combination of higher price and/or lower quality depending on the brand and target price bracket.

Generic costumes

All the other styles which do not need a license, eg: Fairy, Witch, Cowboy etc. are generic costumes. These designs are unique to each brand but sometimes they can be similar to licensed products which can give the canny buyer an alternative. For example a Black and Red jumper could be used with some accessories to create a convincing Dennis the Menace outfit, whereas the official licensed costume would normally be more convincing and include the entire outfit along with branding to show that it is an official licensed product.

Custom made costumes

Home made or tailor made costumes fall outside the scope of normal retail sales and buyers should be very cautious, especially for children’s costumes, that bespoke made costumes comply with all relevant safety legislation for children’s clothing and play-wear. There is absolutely no excuse for saving a few pennies or adding a bespoke feature if it puts a child in danger.

So, how do you tell what type of costume you are buying?

It is not easy when modern product photography makes most products look very attractive; so a little more judgement is in order, we suggest these 5 points as a good starting point:

1. Price

How much you pay has some bearing of course, but particularly in the case of licensed costumes, prices and quality can vary dramatically so it is not always the best way to judge.

2. Brand

Brand is by far the strongest indicator but even there some judgement is necessary: certain brands such as Disney for example, separate their licensed products into a number of quality strata; from the most striking and elegant ballgown that mimics every nuance of one of their beautiful cartoon princess dresses down to a much simpler baby garment which just has a logo or picture of the character on it. However you can be sure that in the case of Disney, every product is tested and designed to very stringent rules well in excess of that required by law which is why at every level it is a successful and trustworthy brand. Some brands such as Fun Shack specialise only in generic Fancy Dress whereas higher quality brands such as Travis Designs specialise in generic costumes that kids will wear over and over as well as a range of high quality licensed Disney Boutique and Disney Baby products.

3. Retailer

Where you make your purchase is very important ; Costumechest stocks products from Fancy Dress through to Carnival quality and we aim to make it clear on our website what quality and longevity to expect from each of the brands we stock but we are more than happy to answer any questions you may have before purchase. High street and market traders vary enormously but tend to stick to the low price end of the market to achieve volume sales but often at the expense of quality and in some cases, safety. Specialist stores tend to be either firmly in the fancy dress or toy store camps and again tend to stock the lower quality end of the spectrum. A few premium retailers do carry a wider range from the better brands but usually only stock a narrow range which limits your choice.

4. What is included?

A basic costume in a fancy dress store will typically come in a clear plastic wallet that can be hung on a display rack. A higher quality product will be better presented, often on a hanger with a protective bag or box. Accessories to complete an outfit are essential however fancy dress brands tend not to include accessories, instead expecting you to buy these extra items separately. Better quality brands include most if not all the items shown in the product photography leaving you wanting for nothing when the product arrives.

5. Ask

A question or two is by far the best method of all. Any retailer worthy of receiving your hard earned cash in exchange for a costume to put a smile on your child’s face should be more than happy to answer your questions about a product before or after purchase. At Costumechest we are more than happy to do this by email or phone.