We encourage formal period attire at our December Ball because it adds so much to the period atmosphere. However, no one should miss the ball because they don't have an extensive vintage wardrobe.
If you prefer not to come in costume, ladies may wear a modern skirt and blouse or dress (preferably long and full), and men may wear a modern tuxedo, dark suit, or dress slacks and sport coat. Whatever you wear, don't forget your smooth-soled shoes for dancing. (See our suggestions for dance shoes.)
Note: For 19th century balls that have special themes, you might want to come in a costume that reflects the theme.
Gloves, usually wrist-length, were always worn. Hair was parted in the middle, arranged in ringlets or a bun, and dressed simply with ribbon, comb, ornaments, flowers, or feathers. Shoes were simple flat slippers, similar to ballet slippers.
By the late 1800s, the silhouette ranged from the bustle-style layered drapery look to the bell-shaped, gored skirt that fit close to the waist and gradually widened to the hem. The hoops and mounds of petticoats were replaced by a single ruffled petticoat. Some gowns had trains while others had hems that went just to the floor. (Avoid trailing skirts that can be tripped over; if you must have a train, attach a loop you can use to hold it up while dancing.) Bodices for evening gowns were close-fitting with low-cut necklines and were sleeveless or had short, puffed sleeves or huge "leg of mutton" sleeves.
were worn elbow-length or longer. Hair was simply styled, usually
drawn up in a knot on the top of the head and dressed with ribbon,
feathers, wings, or flowers. Shoes had shaped heels; modern character
dance shoes with a small heel are appropriate for this period.
If a tailcoat is not available, a cutaway is close to the period style, but any formal-looking dark suit will do. Wear a plain white shirt with the collar pointed up, and a stock tie made from a length of white gauze, fine cotton or silk. Or wear a wing-collar formal shirt with white bow tie. Old military or band uniforms are also appropriate and are fun to wear.
Some costume shops will rent appropriate costumes for the evening at a rate somewhat lower than formal clothing rental shops. Most gentlemen eventually assemble their own costumes but do so piecemeal, by watching for formal rental shop warehouse sales and checking the resale shops. The most expensive and difficult to find item is the tailcoat but it contributes so much to the period look that it is worth the investment.
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Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA