What to Wear
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
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.)
Here are our suggestions
for what to wear, for both ladies
and gentlemen. In addition to comments
on period dress, we provide hints for how you can approximate
the look with moderen clothes.
Note: For 19th century
balls that have special themes, you might want to come in a costume
that reflects the theme.
Gowns of the mid
1800s were low-waisted and off the shoulder with small sleeves
and a deep flounce or bertha of lace or folded fabric at the
neckline. Skirts were full and bell-shaped with lots of petticoats,
and were decorated with flounces, ribbons, and lace.
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.
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.
To approximate the period
style, you might try revamping an old evening gown or bridesmaid
or prom dress. (Make sure the skirt is full enough to let you
can dance comfortably!)
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wear for gentlemen remained much the same throughout the Victorian
era: black tailcoat, white shirt, white stock or bow tie, and
white vest. Gloves were de rigeur throughout the period
and usually white.
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
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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What to Wear to Other Period Events
Follow these links for our suggestions for dressing for other
1920s and 1930s