Arsenal football stars Cesc Fabregas, Theo Walcott, Andrey Arshavin and Bacary Sagna hit the headlines recently when they swapped their football kit for furry animal suits to raise money for a red carpet charity event.

The fancy dress stunt in aid of Great Ormond Street Hospital demonstrates that fancy dress is as popular as ever, whether it's to raise funds for a worthy cause, to turn heads at a party or on a special night out.

What's unusual about this story is that it features celebrities putting on fancy dress costumes, usually they are the inspiration for fancy dress outfits.

Dressing up as a favourite actor, singer, sports star or even cartoon character has long been a popular choice for people attending a fancy dress party.

More recently this trend has taken something of a morbid twist, with recently departed celebrities becoming a common sight at fancy dress parties, or costume parties as they are known in the United States.

Michael Jackson costumes have increased in popularity since the singers death, while Freddie Mercury outfits, Elvis costumes and Marilyn Monroe dresses have been around for many years.

In recent years a number of other trends have emerged, with different fancy dress costume choices being made by different age groups.

Men aged under 25 have tend to opt for the comedy or horror look. One costume that falls firmly in both camps is Borat's infamous mankini costume!

Ladies under 25 have a tendency to go for a costume that makes them look their best, and sexy secretary outfits and naughty maid costumes are best sellers for many fancy dress shops.

Meanwhile, historical costumes are more popular with slightly older women, as are character from fantasy literature, such as the Queen of Hearts and Maid Marion.

Older men though seem to be a little more conservative in their tastes while outfits such as cowboy costumes, naughty vicars and kings and Queens remain popular across the board.

For both men and women of a certain age, characters from movies such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings are always in fashion and its rare to attend a fancy dress party without seeing a Jedi Knight or a Forest Faerie fancy dress costume.

Although fancy dress parties may seem like a modern phenomenon, they actually have a long and rich history. There may be now much more choice when it comes to choosing a fancy dress costume but the idea of dressing up or disguising oneself as somebody else dates back many centuries.

The first properly document .d fancy dress parties as we would recognise them date back to the 18th Century period, when Masquerade was at its peak.
Masquerade parties and masquerade balls of the time often featured famous characters from English history whilst throughout the nineteenth century fancy dress balls became increasingly popular, with costumes often based on characters from novels.

Fancy dress then spread into European middle-class society and while the well off could afford fancy dress costumes made by exclusive dressmakers, may people fashioned their fantasy costumes at home using left over clothing material.

The more familiar fancy dress parties, however, were initiated by the Victorians and developed further in Edwardian times. Following the Second World War, they became increasingly popular, although costumes tended to be fairly simple until the mid 1970's.

This was also the decade that saw the importation of an American tradition to British shores - Halloween.

Although October 31 has been recognised as an important religious date for centuries, it is only the past three decades or so that it has become the most popular day of the year for fancy dress, with both adults and children dressing up as ghost, ghouls and vampires.

Whatever the occasion, fancy dress offers us all the opportunity to engage our alter-ego, to show off our inner self by hiding behind a costume - perhaps that's why it has remained so popular.

Adding to their popularity is the easy availability of quality fancy dress costumes at affordable prices thanks to the growth of specialist fancy dress shops, both online and on the high street.

What is certain is that fancy dress parties - whether they have a theme such as Vicars and Tarts, 70s or 80s fashions or Roman togas - look set to remain a popular way of celebrated a special occasion because they are simply great fun!

About Author / Additional Info:
Ann Baxter started as a fashion designer, but 15 years ago moved to designing fancy dress costume to the industry.