When people talk about a ‘fancy dress’ in life, does it just refer to a fancy dress costume in a fancy dress party or we could also mean a beautiful dress? Thanks!

  • 1
    Dress can mean what outfit you dress in. You could tell someone who doesn't wear dresses No fancy dress - come as you are, to mean wear regular clothes. Oct 27, 2022 at 0:26
  • Can you provide an example sentence using fancy dress in the way that you're inquiring about? Oct 27, 2022 at 3:05
  • 2
    Context will tell you which meaning is intended. 1. Renato is dressing up as Mario the Italian plumber in tonight's fancy dress party 2. Liz is wearing a very fancy dress
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 27, 2022 at 7:38
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    I’m voting to close this question because when we speak, words and expressions come with context which help remove the ambiguity.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 27, 2022 at 7:41
  • 'Fancy dress' can be either a (non-count) compound noun with a special meaning, or a count noun premodified by an adjective in the normal way (a dress that is fancy). Oct 27, 2022 at 15:11

1 Answer 1


"Fancy dress" is a British and Australian English term for being dressed as something you are not - being dressed in a costume, such as Wonder Woman or a medieval knight. In US or Canadian English it would be called a "costume", especially in the term "costume party" which in UK English would be "fancy dress party".

In US/Canadian English "fancy dress" isn't commonly used, but might be used to mean extremely elegant attire. It doesn't necessarily mean an actual dress. Where it is used it's somewhat archaic. As in:

Why, Miss Scarlett, you've been invited to a ball in Atlanta. I'll go and clean your fancy dress.

  • 1
    In the US, "fancy dress" doesn't necessarily mean a literal dress of the sort women wear (although it literally can do that). It mostly describes any type of apparel used for formal or elegant circumstances. For example, a "fancy dress" ball.
    – Robusto
    Oct 27, 2022 at 0:57
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    If you are wearing fancy dress you are dressed up as, for example, Superman. If you are wearing a fancy dress you are wearing a dress that is fancy. A woman going to a fancy dress ball as Marie Antoinette might be doing both.
    – Peter
    Oct 27, 2022 at 3:41
  • may be worth noting that "fancy dress" in the sense of a costume never takes an article (and rarely any determiner at all), so in British English "she was wearing a fancy dress" would be understood as in US/Canadian English
    – Tristan
    Oct 27, 2022 at 10:02

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