Fancy Dress Portraits: Portraits ‘In Disguise’

This PDF resource investigates a variety of portraits of people wearing fancy dress or ‘in disguise’. Each image is paired with another that illustrates the standard attire of the period.

The reproductions illustrate the difference between standard clothes and those worn in ‘in disguise’. The parallel portraits were made at approximately the same time. The faceless portraits enable a comparison to be made and are accompanied by a short descriptive text, provided
by Graham Cottenden, Senior Lecturer in Costume, Bournemouth and Poole College of Art and Design.

There are twenty-two examples which take you back in time from the present day to c.1590, with fancy or ‘in disguise’ dress shown at the top of the page and standard dress illustrated below.

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NPG P490(79) - © National Portrait Gallery, London
John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir
by Yousuf Karsh, 1937
NPG P490(79)

It seems particularly fitting that Canada’s most famous photographer, Karsh, should photograph John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir (1875–1940), best known as the author of The Thirty-Nine Steps, for he served as Governor-General of Canada from 1935 to 1940. Karsh created this image of Tweedsmuir four years before his celebrated portrait of Winston Churchill, a picture that was to transform his photographic reputation, but already in 1937 we can see the importance in his work of dramatic lighting and the ability to convey a certain gravitas by means of isolating the sitter. The headdress is part of native American Indian ceremonial costume, and lends a wonderful air to this portrayal of a Governor-General.

NPG x3163 - © National Portrait Gallery, London
Gerald Brockhurst (detail)
by Howard Coster, 1937
NPG x3163

An elegant, well-tailored three-piece single-breasted chalk-striped suit. The out-breast welt pocket shows the tip of a handkerchief.