Founded by sculptor Andrew Logan in 1972, the Alternative Miss World is in a league of its own when it comes to outrageous outfits. This unique event – that takes the original Miss World format and warps it to the point where swimwear can be an inflatable octopus and a robot can be crowned winner – has seen the likes of Grayson Perry and Leigh Bowery taking part.
Theyyem are dramatic village ceremonies held throughout northern Kerala, usually between October and May. They are performed at the village’s shrine, and the participants embody the gods and spirits being celebrated. Each theyyem has its own extraordinary costumes, including bright body paint and gigantic, elaborately decorated headdresses (mudi).
Taking competitive costume construction into a league of its own, for sheer spectacle Rio’s Carnaval is hard to beat. Each of the city’s samba schools spends the year preparing, striving to be the best – for music, for costume, for floats. Every school picks a theme for their costumes for the year, and thousands of dressed-up dancers and musicians battle it out in an epic parade at the city’s purpose-built Sambódromo.
The World Naked Bike Ride is a unique environmental protest meant in part to highlight the exposure and danger faced by cyclists on the road, with cycle rides in dozens of cities, including prominent events in London and Portland, Oregon. From the headlines it gets, it’s clear the most controversial suit you can don is still your birthday suit. The motto is "bare as you dare", with no one excluded and body paint de rigueur.
Dressing up as a form of protest has an illustrious history and LGBT Pride festivals have raised this to an art form. Though many are now celebratory as well as political, their origins lay in the struggle for LGBT rights, and when Sydney’s first event was held in 1978 it was met with violence and resistance. Now, it is one of the biggest events in the city’s calendar, and a spectacular display of high camp and costume.
Beauties in big white dresses might be what spring to mind when you say "Vienna" and "balls", but the Life Ball has reinvigorated the format. Held to support AIDs charities, the annual Life Ball is a flamboyant costume event, with thousands of dressed-up spectators and celebrity guests. Queen of the ball last year? Conchita Wurst of course.
Where do goths go on holiday? Leipzig is the likely answer, as every year it hosts the world’s biggest celebration of dark music, right in the heart of the city. Most of the music venues gets taken over by the Wave-Gotik-Treffen, and on every street, and on every tram, you’ll see those fans of the darker side of life in all their finery, with every goth subculture represented. It’s quite a spectacle, one that metropolitan Leipzigers take in their stride.
Possibly the most colourful New Year’s Day event in the world, Junkanoo is the highlight of the Bahamas’ calendar. Parades are held on both December 26 and January 1, and their origins are in the islands’ slave history – these were the days slaves were allowed time off. They are a brilliantly bright array of stilt-dancers, acrobats and elaborately costumed participants. The costumes are more feats of construction: huge, colourful creations made from cardboard, crepe paper, feathers, and glitter.
For thirty years Japan has produced some of some of the most avant-garde fashions on the planet, from the couture collections of Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto to the street styles of Tokyo, which have been familiar to the wider world since the mid-1990s. To see the latest styles, whether Manga influenced, Lolita-style or the extraordinary Shironuri look, which takes traditional Japanese white make-up as its starting point to create an otherworldly porcelain doll appearance, head to the Harajuku district.
Dressing up in costume for Halloween is now a worldwide phenomenon, but it’s an all-American tradition. Big city parades and parties like those in New York’s Village, LA’s West Hollywood and New Orleans' French Quarter are large and spectacular, but a real American Halloween is best experienced in the country’s small towns, such as Park City in Utah, where even the dogs get their own parade for "Howl-o-Ween".
One of the biggest events worldwide for fetish and leather fans, in the only city that could have hosted a celebration like this for thirty years, San Francisco’s Folsom Street Fair attracts 400,000 people for a day where anything goes, sartorially or otherwise.
In a world where dressing up is the norm 365 days a year and an over-sized mouse rules the roost it’s hard to pick the best costume event at Disney World, but the Christmas parades and parties are a strong contender. Though often very busy, there are lots of parties, parades and fireworks, including Mickey’s 'Once upon a Christmastime Parade', with elves, gingerbread men and characters from Frozen all taking part.
With geek culture entering the mainstream, comic conventions around the world attract hundreds of thousands of fans, and San Diego’s is the biggest. You don’t have to wear a costume (cosplay) to attend but if you’ve always dreamt of dressing as a character from Game of Thrones, it’s probably a better place to do so than your local supermarket. One of the highlights of San Diego’s Comic-Con is the Masquerade costume competition.
The "fifth season" in Cologne is taken very seriously indeed, with preparations beginning the previous November, and celebrations starting in January. The highlight of carnival week for costumes is Rosenmontag, the Monday before Ash Wednesday when around a million people turn out to see the processions on the streets of Cologne, where outfits are flamboyant, very silly and often satirical.
A costume gallery without something from the world of showbiz just wouldn’t be right, but who does it best? Surely Las Vegas is the spiritual home of the show-stopping stage costume, and, though Lady Gaga is giving them a run for their money, at the moment Cirque du Soleil has some of the most inventive costumes in shows such as 'O' and 'Zarkana'.
Like all the best folk traditions, no one’s quite sure why it’s done, but the tradition endures. In Queensferry near Edinburgh the Burryman is a peculiar custom that’s part of the August annual fair. One local man is dressed up as the "burryman", and covered head to foot in burdock burrs, leaving barely a gap to see through, before he progresses slowly through the town fortified by whisky.
Glastonbury might be bigger, Burning Man more extreme, but if your idea is fun is dressing up in themed fancy dress and partying in a muddy field for three days, then Bestival is the festival for you. Each year has a theme – such as Desert Island Disco, Nautical and Rock Stars, Pop Stars and Divas – and most festival-goers take part.
Kalibo in Visayas province sees street dancing and wild costumes for the Ati Atihan festival in January, one of the most exuberant festivals in a country that likes a fiesta. Originally celebrating an ancient land pact between settlers and indigenous Atis, it now also honours Santo Niño. In 2015 it will coincide with a Papal visit to the Philippines, though it’s not been confirmed whether Pope Francis will be joining in.
The one day a year when hat-spotting becomes a national past-time, Britain’s Royal Ascot Ladies Day combines the best of British: sporting endeavour, eccentric attire and a healthy dose of social snobbery. Strict protocol governs spectators’ appearance – in the royal enclosure hats should have a base of a minimum of four inches diameter – but beyond that, the bigger the better.
The masks and tricorn hats are familiar symbols of the Venice carnival, and if you’re in the city at the time it’s worth at least making an effort with a cloak and a mask, but those with the very best outfits join in the costume competition that takes place every day in Piazza San Marco. For the ten days of carnival, free outdoor concerts and performances, balls and parades make it a fun – if busy – time to be in the city.