Six Sure Ways to Fancy Dress Success

Fancy dress Steam Punk Themed party
Photo credit: John Miles

Six Sure Ways to Fancy Dress Success

(and why the Steam Punk Traitor’s Ball worked so well)

We went to a Steam Punk Ball last week, to launch local author Gareth Ward’s book: The Traitor & The Thief. Dressing up in Steam Punk costume was optional, but the town came to the party and almost everyone came in costume. People will be talking about that night for a long time to come and the publicity generated for the book was enormous.

So why did it work so well?

Well, there is the “freedom dynamic” that comes with dressing up.  It is so liberating!  When you dress in character, you step out of your usual persona and explore a different role. Shy people often find their inner extrovert and people mingle more. I’m sure I’m not the only one who will go to a normal party and talk to (a) people I know, then (b) people who look like me.

At a fancy dress I’ll add (c) total strangers in cool costumes.

I’ve always enjoyed fancy dress parties.


Here are my 6 best tips to make your “fancy dress” party successful:

1 Don’t call it “fancy dress”

Unless your party goers are 5 years old (in which case do the other parents a favour and just supply a dress up box).
Call it by it’s theme, eg: Steam Punk “Traitor’s Ball”.

2 Work your theme

Carry your theme through your setting, music, food, invitation, decorations.
Keep the theme fairly tight. Creative people will still get creative but a frame helps the less theatrical cope.

3 Be really clear about what is expected

“Will I be the only one looking like a prat?” is a visceral fear. Discuss costumes with your guests in advance and get a buzz going early, a bit of competition is always good. Direct people to costume hire places or give links to DIY suggestions on line.

A tip: do recommend costumes they can wear all evening. Full face masks are problematic. And don’t do the great big hairy bear. There’s the voice of experience.

4 Repeat!

The first year is the hardest. Once you’ve enjoyed one Steam Punk Ball, you’ll bring all your friends along to the next one.

5 Give them something to do

This is my number one rule for any event. Eat and drink and talk, yes. But give them something to do to get them them mingling.  At the Traitor’s Ball we had to shoot at each other with steam pistols and tickle people with feathers.

You could vote which 10 guests should start a new colony on the moon. Find your twin. Decide which couple would make the best love child.  Give people permission to talk to strangers.

6 Hire a professional photographer

A professional understands lighting and composition and vibe and, damn it, they will take professional photos which will look a million times better than anything you can take on a phone.

Your friends have made an effort – reward them with photos that make them look good!

The talented John Miles was at the Traitor’s Ball and his photos will ensure people enjoy the night long after the party’s over.

Party Photography John Miles

Here are some ideas for “Theme Parties”  (or fancy dress parties):


Speakeasy – a Gatsby Gathering. With dancing.

James Bond – get out the blackjack tables and have a Casino night.

Art Deco Evening – because 1930s rock (they certainly did in Napier).

Gangsters & Molls – could make it a poker night.

Masque ball – it is very weird to socialise behind a mask. Not sure about his one!


Rustic or outdoors

Pantomime Party – you’ll get blokes coming as the ugly sisters. Mark my words.

Wild West – yes, with a shoot out and a plastic snake in yer boot.

Pirates – because we all want an excuse to play Jack Sparrow.

Medieval – should come with a barbeque and a marquee.

Spring fever – dress as something blooming botanical.

Mardi Gras Carnival – start at home, then parade around the streets. Steel drums.

Biblical party – you may get a dash of Monty Python.



Cross dressing – not sure why this is still so liberating in 2017, but there’s  life in it yet.

Recession Dressin’ – you’ve got to get your kit from an op shop and spend under $10

1980s punk – apologise for the music in advance.

Flower Power Party – 1960s music was better but clothes were shocking.

Uniform Party – yep. Always good.

Unlikely Superheros – be prepared for thought provoking. Not as childish as it sounds.

Groups – great for a quiz night where you have tables. Anything goes, so long as you are coordinated. We had Miss Fit, Miss Take and Miss Laid, Miss Understood etc.  Think back to the outfits that turned out for Wellington sevens.



Murder Mystery – in costume. Use Expertease, or make your own story.

Karaoke – You have to dress up as well as sing. Relax.  It’s supposed to be ironic.

Rubik’s Cube – Come wearing 6 different colours (op shop). Swap until you’re mono-coloured.

19th of September is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Just saying.

A good themed party your guests will remember their whole lives.  Lift your game!

It’s always worth the effort.