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Top 20 Great Costume Theme Ideas

Updated on July 3, 2014
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Hi, I am Adele, and I have run a large fancy dress shop in Essex, England since 1998. Happy to pass on my knowledge to help others.

Fancy Dress Parties, To Theme or Not To Theme?

If you want to have a fantastic night to remember, you should consider having a fancy dress party. Your guests will laugh all night long, it breaks down barriers and encourages people to mix, so is ideal for people who do not know each other that well as well. The pictures, and memories, will just be fantastic.

Fancy dress parties tend to fall into two categories those with and those without a theme. Although both types can be great fun, how do you decide what to wear?

General fancy dress parties with no theme gives you the option of going as absolutely anything or anybody. There are a whole host of generic costumes available, including some fantastic novelty and animal outfits. Alternatively, you could choose to go as a specific person, whether this is a historical figure, a movie star, a book character, a pop star or someone from any aspect of popular culture. When it comes to no theme the only limit is your imagination.

However, we do find that a lot of our customers prefer a theme as it helps to keep them focused. When faced with the large range of costumes that Props n Frocks has (both in our shop in Essex, or on line), it can be a bit overwhelming trying to decide on just one costume - some have been known to have a couple so they can change mid-evening!.

We have written many information pages regarding various fancy dress themes, and this list grows weekly. Choosing the right theme is very important, restrict it too much and it will put people off attending your themed party.

Where the party has a theme, in theory your choice of outfit is restricted to those that relate to the theme. In practice, enterprising individuals will often think outside the box, coming up with unique and crazy costumes which can sometimes be only indirectly related to the theme in question. And for those who don't like to dress up, there are often 'minimalist' options.

For those who need some guidance, listed below are our top twenty fancy dress ideas to start you off.

Ancient Times

Historically, you might want to go as a person from Ancient Times - a popular theme - especially in summer - and outfits can be quite simple.

Romans tend to be the most popular, although Greeks and Egyptians are also possible. Famous Romans include Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony. One costume is based on the traditional Toga approach, with laurel 'crown', whilst the other is the more macho armour approach, in the style of the films Gladiator and the Eagle.

Cleopatra, always a popular costume choice, can work for a Roman theme, Although she was an Egyptian Queen, she was of Greek origin and 'liased' with Roman leaders to protect her country and her powerbase!

We also stock a great range of costumes for children - ideal for school dress up Roman & Egyptian days

There are also a wide range of accessories on the market that you can purchase to put the finishing touches to your outfit, be it one you have purchased, or if you are handy, one you've made yourself.

Our Egyptian accessories include:

  • Headdresses
  • Snake Armbands
  • Cuffs
  • Collars
  • Belts

Our Roman accessories include:

  • Roman Gladiator Armour
  • Roman Soldier Helmets
  • Roman Sandals
  • Roman Shields & Swords
  • Laurels, both green and gold

Historical Fancy Dress Theme

The next popular historical era can be the Historical one.

Having an Historical theme for your function is normally very popular, especially with the ladies, who love the idea as dressing up in our modern day romantic version of 'The Good Old Days!' We think we can blame the BBC for producing some brilliant costume dramas, for making this particular period of history seem wonderful! The men never seem so keen on wearing tights!

This theme is particularly popular with couples getting married, especially if they are getting wed in an historic building such as a castle. Medieval and Tudor and two very separate eras. We often have customers requesting outfits for a Medieval wedding, but end up wearing Tudor, as it is more elaborate. If you are holding a 'Medieval' wedding please make it quite clear to your guests if you will accept Tudor costumes as well.

Costumes from both this (and other British historical periods) can sometimes be known as Renaissance costume, particularly if they are of American origin. For males Knights, Kings and Monks are the main contenders,whilst for females the long flowing mode of dress from early British history can be reminiscent of the Princesses from fairy tales.

If ancient history is not to your taste, perhaps you might want to go as a character from 20th Century culture? Because of the notable influences from both America and other nations on aspects of British life, such as cinema, music, archaeological discoveries, etc., several ideas for fancy dress may often have an international appeal

1920s Costume Theme

The Roaring Twenties can be an interesting idea. Gangsters and Molls tend to be the most sought after costumes from the Jazz age. Female costumes may also be referred to as Flapper or Charleston outfits. Specific characters such as Al Capone, Bugsy Malone or Bonnie & Clyde are available.

The 20s was the decade that hemlines raised to the knee, and ladies cut their hair, causing raised eyebrows to the older generations!

There are a great range of costumes to purchase for a 1920s costume party. Although there are sexy versions of 20s flapper dresses, most designs are very flattering to all figures. There are also some great Charleston headbands, gloves, cigarette holders and boas all available to purchase.

For men, the choice is a little more limited, with Gangster costumes being really the only possible choice. Again, there are a huge range of gangster accessories to purchase, so you may be able to put your own costume together at home. Our gangster accessories include:

  • Spats - white cover for shoes, and easy way to get them to look like 20s Oxford shoes
  • Tommy Gun - every Gangster needs his trusty gun
  • Ties & Braces
  • Trilby Hats
  • Moustaches
  • Cigars & Glasses

1940s Costume Theme

The 1940s and the Big Band sound is a very popular theme, although in certain sizes, costumes from this era, particularly uniforms, can be difficult to come by. Dashing RAF pilots are probably the most desirable uniforms, although Spivs in their civvies also have a certain appeal.  Female costumes range from daywear to evening wear, whilst land girls and service uniforms can also be seen.

Luckily, there are now a range of 40s costumes available on the market, which was dominated,until recently purely by hire costumes.

Our 1940s costume range includes: 

  • Spivs - wear a standard Gangster style costume
  • Home Guard Costumes - available up to an extra large size
  • American GI Uniforms for both men and women, again, these costumes are available in large sizes also.
  • 40's RAF Uniforms for both men and women - available in many sizes
  • 40's UK Army Costumes for both men and women - available in plus sizes

Greaser Costume
Greaser Costume

1950s Costume Theme

The 1950s often has a glamorous appeal. Fifties American culture can be seen in films such as Grease & Back to the Future, whilst on this side of the Atlantic, the Teddy Boy look was prevalent amongst the young.  Circular skirts with layers of petticoats and waspie belts was one look for females. The other was the pencil skirt, stiletto heels and tight fitting jumper/top. Music was a heavy influence, with the start of the Rock n Roll look by Bill Hailey, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, etc...   

This theme is now well covered with all the costumes and accessories that are available on the market to purchase. As well as the licensed T Bird & Pink Lady costumes, you will also be able to find Greaser style jackets and plenty of 50s style ladies Rock n Roll costumes. 50's glasses and men's quiff wigs will all help you to complete your outfits.


1960s Fancy Dress

During the 1960s era the UK took centre stage with the Mersey beat sound and the London look. The Austin Powers films are a great source of iconic, if somewhat stylised, images from the decade. Female looks include the Mary Quant black & white quarter mini-dress, Twiggy and Dolly Bird. Towards the end of the decade flower power and the hippy generation provided a contrast to the Mods and Rockers of the previous years.

This theme just goes on and on, it's popularity never seems to dwindle (maybe it is because the music is just so good). There are a great range of costumes available to purchase (or hire, if you live near a great fancy dress shop like Props n Frocks!).

Some of our male 60's costume ideas include:

  • Mod Style Costume
  • Hippie Costumes
  • Beatles Style Costumes
  • Austin Powers Outfits, and of course, we stock all the accessories you will need to complete these outfits...

Some of the 1960s Ladies outfits we stock are:

  • Mary Quant Style Dresses - Eye make-up was big in those days - take a look at our great range of eyelashes, just what you need to complete this costume.
  • Ladies Hippy Costumes - we stock a huge range of hippy wigs and other hippy accessories
  • Mini Skirt Costumes - available up to extra large sizes
  • Check out our 60s Costume hub that takes a look at what's available in great detail.

Ladies Abba Style Costume
Ladies Abba Style Costume

1970s Costume Theme

1970s was the time of glam rock, easy listening, disco and punk. Generic 1970s costumes abound for both males and females, but when it comes to pop stars, the emphasis is definitely on the men. Noddy Holder & Slade, David Bowie, Bay City Rollers, Rod Stewart, Showaddywaddy... the list goes on. For females it's a different story. Individual female pop stars of the era include Suzi Quatro, Dolly Parton, Diana Ross, Toyah Willcox, but relatively few others. There were a few mixed groups, probably the most notable being Abba, plus the brother/sister act The Carpenters.

Punk remains a very popular costume choice (I must admit it that it is my favourite costume to dress up in). Costumes are available to purchase but you can easily put your own costume together at home using a ripped shirt, some safety pins and chains, and one of our fantastic punk accessories, these include:

  • Mohican Wigs
  • Fake Body Piercings
  • Tattoo Sleeves
  • Studded and Spiked Bracelets and Chokers

Moving on from punk costume ideas, Glam Rock really does steal the show. Our fabulous ladies jumpsuits, ideal to use as an Abba costume, are available in blue, silver and green are so popular and go right up to an XXL size, so ideal for all the plus sized ladies.

No Glam Rock outfit is complete without some platform shoes, or boots, and yes, we stock a great range for men and women.

Platform shoes are also a great accessory if you are going to wear a 70s pimp outfit. This is one costume wear the more bling jewellery you can wear, the better the costume will look. A very popular outfit choice for the men.

Take a look at our brilliant 70s costume ideas hub, it will really give you loads of great ideas for this costume theme.

1980s Costume Theme

The 1980s is the final decade in our 'historical/retro' list. This costume theme is definitely gathering pace as more costumes and accessories become available.

The most notable items about the decade being the big hair and big shoulder pads in the style of Dynasty & Dallas, which were just two of the TV series that captured the public's imagination. The 1980s was also about keeping fit, jogging and another TV series Fame. The advent of the MTV generation, during the decade meant a wealth of music videos, where arguably the most prolific performer in terms of costumes was Madonna. 

A lot of the costumes that are available tend to be based around the pop stars of the day, our range includes the following 80s popstars:

  • Boy George
  • Michael Jackson
  • Freddy Mercury 
  • Madonna
  • Cyndi Lauper - you would need to wear a ladies punk costume
Other costume ideas are really based on popular films and television series such as The Smurfs and Charlie & The chocolate Factory (Oompa Loompa costumes are very popular), or an Officer & a Gentleman, Beetlejuice, The Blues Brothers and Top Gun.

Pirates Fancy Dress Theme

The next theme on our list is Pirates.

Whereas at one time everyone wanted to be Captain Hook or Long John Silver, nowadays the requests are more for Captain Jack Sparrow or Captain Barbossa, thanks to the Pirates of the Caribbean films. This is one area where you can really go to town, mixing and matching accessories to come up with your definitive pirate look.

There is a huge choice of pirate costumes on the market from ladies sexy pirate outfits to a budget Caribbean Pirate costume. However, a lot of people will prefer to make up their own costumes at home with some cut down jeans and a ripped shirt. Pirates must have one of the largest range of accessories available, so it will easy for you to pick an accessory, or two, to complete either a purchased, or home made costume.

Our pirate accessories include:

  • Wigs
  • Hats
  • Weapons (pirate pistols, hooks and swords)
  • Eyepatches
  • Treasure Maps
  • Gold Coins
  • Overboots, plus loads more...

Western Fancy Dress Theme

Although not so popular these days, the Wild West features in our top twenty, mainly thanks to the prolific amount of barn dances and country & western events that still occur around the country. One might assume that the typical costumes would be the cowboy and cowgirl, but the Mississippi gambler and saloon girl or bar madame are equally as popular. Native American costumes for both males and females can also be a bit different.

Again, this is a costume theme where the accessories really shine. There are a huge range to choose from.

Saloon Girl accessories include:

  • Fishnet Tights or stockings
  • Garters (with and without belts)
  • Gloves
  • Boas

Cowboy | Cowgirl Accessories include:

  • Hats
  • Weapons (Rifles, Guns & Holsters)
  • Bandanas
  • Spurs
  • Sheriff Badges
  • Western Bow Ties

Our Native American Indian accessories include:

  • Feather headdress (male and female)
  • Weapons, including spears and tomahawks
  • Jewellery
  • War Paint

Male Masquerade Mask
Male Masquerade Mask
Mens Gold and black Eyemask
Mens Gold and black Eyemask
Red Butterfly Eyemask
Red Butterfly Eyemask
Ladies Masquerade Mask
Ladies Masquerade Mask
Red Beaded Eye Mask
Red Beaded Eye Mask
Black & White Mask On a Stick
Black & White Mask On a Stick

Masquerade Mask Ball

For those wanting to glam things up a Masked Ball can certainly add a touch of class. Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, in 18th Century costume are the obvious choices, but in reality any long evening or historical dress could work. The alternative is the fancy dress masked ball, where you can not only come disguised as Dick Turpin, Zorro or the Phantom of the Opera, but there are a number of superheroes who also wear masks as part of their general disguise.

However, most people will tend to have a party and only expect their guests to wear a mask. This is a great theme for a party, as for a low price, your guests can transform themselves - ideal in these cash strapped times! With prices from £1.50, we have a mask suitable for everyone.

Eyemasks tend to be secured in 1 of 3 ways. The easiest is by holding a stick (see bottom image on the right). These type of masks are ideal if you do not want to mess your hair up with elastic, although it can be tedious holding the mask all night.

The second way is by securing the eyemask on elastic. The elastic goes round the back of your head. These masks are very flexible and will fit everyone's head, although you will need to arrange your hair to cover up the elastic.

Lastly, a lot of eyemasks now come on a headband. The upside of these masks is that you are able to move the mask up and out of the way, to eat, drink and chat to your friends. Also coming onto the market are masks based on a spectacle-style.

From the Arts and Entertainment field there are three main popular themes. Movies, Book Characters & Pop Stars. As there are several movies that are based on book characters, sometimes the first two themes can be interlinked. Characters that cross over include Cruella De Vil, Peter Pan, Snow White and Shrek.

In terms of Movies, Cleopatra and Marilyn Monroe are normally the first two females most people think of, whilst Gladiator and Beetlejuice are poles apart in terms of costumes, but high on the list of male movie requests.

Some of our other Movies Costume Ideas include:

  • The Sound Of Music
  • The Dark Knight
  • Raiders Of The Lost Ark
  • Godfather
  • Toy Story
  • Star Wars Series
  • Lawrence of Arabia
  • The Matrix

Scarlet O'Hara Style Costume
Scarlet O'Hara Style Costume

For Book Characters the list can broaden out to include all different types of stories, from pantomimes and fairy tales through to serious drama or comic books.

Batman, Superman, Spider Man, Wonder Woman, plus other comic book heroes can also be included in the list of book characters who have made it in the movies.

Some Book Character Outfit Ideas:

  • Harry Potter
  • Animal Farm
  • Lord Of The Rings
  • Gone With The Wind
  • The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe
  • Oliver Twist
  • The Bible

Turning to TV,The X-Factor, Britain's Got Talent and Stars in their Eyes have all contributed to the explosion of people wanting to be Pop stars. Long before these TV series were even invented, people wanted to imitate their idols. This can be seen in the number or decades parties where instead of wanting a generic costume, people were asking for specific characters, whether this was from the world of Pop, TV or film. Pop stars is a theme which crosses generations, whether wanting to be Lady Gaga, Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley or Abba.

Some Pop Star costume Ideas:

  • Lady Gaga - these costumes have taken off very well
  • Cheryl Cole - very popular at the moment
  • Abba - we stock some great ladies jumpsuits up to XXL
  • Freddy Mercury
  • Beatles
  • Madonna
  • Boy George
  • Michael Jackson
  • Elvis
  • Amy Whinehouse
  • Spice Girls

Moving away from Arts and Entertainment our next theme is Goodies and Baddies. This more general theme can incorporate a few traditional themes such as Heroes & Villains, Saints & Sinners, Vicars & Tarts, Heaven & Hell and Gangsters & Moll.Characters for this theme can come from history, fantasy or the movies. Some of them have already been mentioned above. When it comes to Goodies, Indiana Jones and Lara Croft, who again fit into the Movies category,are often the most widely recognised. James Bond naturally is up there, with Blofeld being his main nemesis.

Costume Ideas for Film villains:

  • Voldermort – Harry Potter
  • Darth Vader, Darth Maul, both from Star Wars
  • Cruella de Vil – 101 Dalmations
  • Dr. Hannibal Lector
  • Wicked Queen – Snow White
  • Maleficent - Sleeping Beauty/Maleficent
  • Wicked Witch of The West – Wizard of Oz
  • The Joker – Batman
  • Freddy Krueger - A Nightmare On Elm Street
  • Jason – Friday 13th
  • Scream
  • Jigsaw – Saw movies
  • Dr. No – James Bond

Real life Baddies...

  • Terrorists
  • Adolf Hitler
  • Various Politicians – depends on who you support

Fantasy Baddies...

  • Devils
  • Bad Fairies / Angels
  • Vampires
  • Werewolves
  • Witches

Some Goodie Costume Ideas:

  • Angels
  • Doctors
  • Nurses
  • Glinda - The good witch from The Wizard of Oz
  • Prince Charming
  • Fairy Godmother
  • Peter Pan
  • Superhero costumes - we stock a huge range for men and women
  • Policemen and women

Horror Fancy Dress

Following on from Goodies and Baddies one might expect that Horror parties are usually held only around Halloween (October 31st). The truth is that they can crop up at any time of the year, including New Year's Eve. Horror parties allow people the opportunity to be as gruesome as they like. Blood and bad taste are often major features, with costume requests for males including Freddie Kruegar, Scream, Hannibal Lecter. Females may often focus on the more glamorous look such as the Corpse Bride or Gothic Vampiress.

We have already given some horror costume ideas in some of the above categories, below we list some of the most popular Horror / Halloween costumes:

Popular Men's Horror Costumes:

  • Clowns - various horror clowns are available to purchase
  • Dracula / Vampire
  • Werewolves - really popular with the Twilight Saga
  • Scream
  • Saw
  • Freddy Krueger - A Nightmare On Elm Street
  • Jason - Friday The 13th
  • Bloody Doctors
  • Zombies

Popular ladies Horror / Halloween Costumes

  • Sexy Witch
  • Wicked Witch of the West / traditional witch
  • Miss Kruegar - sexy version of Freddy
  • Goth / Dead bride
  • Bad Fairy
  • Fallen Angel
  • Vampiress

This is another fancy dress theme that is backed up with a huge range of accessories to help you complete your outfits.

Our Halloween accessories include:

  • Fake Blood
  • Vampire Teeth
  • Capes
  • Wigs
  • Special Effects Make Up
  • Fake Skin
  • Jewellery
  • Wings
  • Eyelashes
  • Hats, including witch hats and vampire hats

Avatar Costume
Avatar Costume

Fantasy Fancy Dress

Horror parties are just one form of Fantasy which is the next fancy dress theme. Fantasy parties give people the opportunity to be creative with their ideas for costumes, with out-of-this-world aliens, mythicalcreatures and characters. Basically, this is a costume theme where you can make up your own rules and anything goes! For those lacking time or imagination there are also a variety of off-the-peg costumes available from films such as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, etc..

Other fantasy costume options include:

  • Fairies
  • Aliens
  • Angels
  • Avatar Costumes
  • Star Trek
  • Devils
  • Even superhero costumes fit into this fancy dress theme

You can also look at this another way and choose a costume for your own fantasy. Maybe you've always wanted to be an airline pilot, well now you can! Would you like to live on your own desert island? Why not wear Hawaiian accessories? Have you always wanted the nerve to be a punk or goth? Well now's the chance!

Who wants to be the back end of a cow?
Who wants to be the back end of a cow?

Animal Fancy Dress

From mythical creatures we head towards the more traditional, with Animals being the 18th topic on our list. There is a great selection of animal costumes available, from wild ones such as gorillas, lions or tigers, to pets such as a cats, dogs or rabbits or farmyard chickens, cows or horses and the list goes on.

We stock a huge range of animal overhead masks if you don't fancy getting yourself in an entire costume.

Some examples of our animal masks:

  • Gorillas
  • Stags
  • Dalmation
  • Fox
  • Horse
  • Cow
  • Duck
  • Frog
We also stock a wide range of face bop masks. These masks are ideal to wear for adults and children alike as they are based on a headband. The animals ears and nose are attached to the headband (some even have the animal noise as well), but the key selling point of these masks is that eyesight is not impeded in any way at all which makes them ideal for school plays etc...

Other animal accessories that we stock include:

  • Animal Noses for a huge range of animals
  • Cat Tails & Ears
  • Cat Whiskers & Gloves
  • Rabbit Ears
  • Dog Tails

Countries is nineteenth on the list. The round robin parties where food from different cultures was brought to a gathering of people are not so prolific as they once were, but still make it to our top twenty. Countries parties nowadays tend to focus on specific countries, particularly when it is their National Day being celebrated. Aside from the national days of the individual countries of the UK, the most requested other ones currently are Australia & America. Other events which lead to countries costumes being requested are the Eurovision Song contest where participants dress up in a variation of the national costume of a particular country (the idea being that people all support different countries, or Bollywood which is an increasingly requested costume concept.

Some Costumes Ideas For a Country Theme:

  • Japanese Geisha
  • Chinaman Hats
  • Spanish Matadors
  • Arab Sheiks - use for any Arab nation
  • Belly Dancers - use for Egypt, Turkey, Morocco
  • Hawaiian
  • Leprechaun - Ireland
  • Mexican Ponchos
  • Spanish Flamenco Dancer
  • Mens Rumba 
  • Union Jack Dresses - England
  • Cheerleader - America

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The final item in this top twenty is that of Uniforms or Professions parties. Everyone loves a man in uniform (or that’s the idea) and there are a whole range of various ones available from the armed forces through to pilots, air hostesses and chefs.

Some Profession Costume Ideas:

  • Doctors
  • Nurses
  • Magician
  • Rodeo Rider - wear a cowboy outfit
  • Army - costumes available for men and women
  • Naval - costumes available for men and women
  • Police
  • Fireman
  • Referee
  • Waitress - French Maid
  • Chef
  • Vicar / Priest (and other religious costumes)
  • Burlesque Dancer - wear a saloon girl outfit
  • Racing Driver

Hope this has helped you to narrow down a brilliant costume theme for your next party - would love to know your thoughts ...

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