May 28, 2014

Goodbye Lie Fave- Victorian Ball

As I was doing research about Victorian balls for The Goodbye Lie series, I was amazed to discover I had already hosted a ball – we just called it a wedding reception.  The main difference is that the rules for what was proper / improper were much more strict. 
                        - Jane Marie

Jane Marie at
Gone With The Wind
costume ball in Atlanta, GA
Entertainment Tonight is filming.


Rules for a Victorian Ball
Turn back the clock to 1894.  Picture yourself sitting on your joggling board on the front porch.  You are embroidering a pillow square for the parlor when the postman delivers an unexpected invitation to a ball.  You are overjoyed, but you haven't attended such an elegant event since last season, so you decide to reread your book of etiquette to make certain you don’t embarrass yourself or your escort.  You set aside your sewing, go to the library, find your favorite book on the subject and relax in a leather chair.  And so you open Manners, Culture and Dress of the Best American Society (1893) by Richard A. Wells and read:
Inviting over 50 guests makes the party a ball, while entertaining over 100 guests is a grand ball.  (Less than 50 people is a dance.)   Balls should be held in a stately hall of some sort.  The size of the room must be chosen in accordance with the number of guests attending.  Sufficient room for comfortable seating and standing as well as a fair size dance floor must be considered. 
The invitations are to be hand written in the loveliest script possible or professionally printed.  They should include “We request the pleasure of your company,” as well as the date and place of the event.  Mailed or hand delivered, they must arrive at least seven to 10 days prior to the occasion.  A response (R.S.V.P. or r.s.v.p. -  French for répondez s'il vous plaît or please reply) should arrive promptly to give the hostess ample time to complete her preparations.
The guests discern the degree of formality according to the manner of invitation, i.e., handwritten/printed or spoken, the latter being less formal.  The feminine dress for a ball ought to be fashionable without being outlandish.  Moderation with regard to color and fit seems sage advice for most.  More often then not, gowns should be richly ornamented with drapes or sweepers (trains).  When a sleeveless dress with a low neckline is chosen, long gloves are to be worn so as not to needlessly expose the tempting flesh of the arm.  Often, too, ribbons are seen cuffing the wrist over the gloves as well as circling the throat.  For the sake of dancing, the length of the ball gown must be a tad shorter than dresses worn during the day.
White gloves are to be worn by the men so perspiration will not dampen the gowns of their partners. An escort may bestow a tussie mussie or nosegay on his lady so she might carry it during the ball and have a souvenir afterwards.  The particular flower in the small bouquet should be well chosen for each variety of blossom has a particular meaning in the language of flowers.
A cloak station or, if possible, a cloak room in which the domestic staff can tag and hang outerwear, is helpful and lessens confusion at the time of departure.  (The staff may also assist in removing and donning the garment at the ball’s conclusion.)
Making an entrance down a curving staircase is ideal for showing off one’s gown as well as one’s figure.  Additionally, one may be “fashionably late,” as late as 60 minutes.  However, any later would be considered rude without clear explanation to the hostess.  Married women, of course, are to be accompanied by their spouses.  Unmarried women are to be have an approved escort or attend with their mothers or fathers.
It is presumed the host or hostess has invited only persons of character and good reputation as well as social stature.  Therefore, when a woman is asked to dance, she must do so, lest she be considered rude and hurt the feelings of the man asking.  
The host may assign a single gentleman the task of asking for the honor of a dance from any lady who has not danced.  Guests must never perceive that the host may have arranged such an opportunity.  His purpose is to entertain, not embarrass.  This way, the host is praised for his entertaining ways by all his guests, and his goal of a memorable event lasting long in the minds of those in attendance will have been met.  Of course, it is everyone’s duty to introduce gentlemen to non-dancing ladies around the hall, so all can share in the joy of the evening and no one feels left out.  Those ladies dancing most often must be careful not to appear to be bragging about all their activity, particularly in the presence of those who have not been so fortunate.
A slight nod of the head may be given in greeting to an escort.  One should always wear a smile while dancing.  When each dance is completed, the escort accompanies the lady back to her original location, bows and thanks her for the pleasure of her company.  She may bow, curtsey or nod in reply, again with a smile, no matter if her toes are bruised and battered.
Do not dance complicated quadrilles, or even the waltz, if unskilled at such.  If one has already begun to dance and the dance unexpectedly turns difficult, follow the lead of your partner or those around you.  Do not instruct someone as to a particular dance step in public.Control your love of the dance.  Enjoy yourself, but do not make any attention-getting spirals or leaps or you may be considered a show-off, a person to be disdained.
A feminine guest is never to cross the dance floor unaccompanied.  When a married or unmarried lady must excuse herself temporarily from the ball, at least one other married woman or her mother or a female chaperon must always accompany her.

No gentleman is ever to sit next to a lady unless he is known to her and invited to do so.
A lady only accepts the offer of refreshment from a gentleman with whom she is well acquainted.
Ladies must never speak loudly, unless there is a fire, and then with a firm but controlled voice so as not to induce panic.  Whispering should be done only when necessary to avoid rudeness.
Graciousness is most important throughout the evening.  Although some may be strangers, polite acknowledgement of their presence in passing is important.
Should a gentleman escort a lady home after the ball, he is never to enter her home.  He may ask only to see her again.
A thank you visit within a week’s time to the host and hostess is required where joyful highlights of the evening are expressed.  (Be sure and leave your calling card.)  Should any disturbing moments have occurred, they need not be mentioned unless the master or mistress first brings them into the conversation.
Two of the most memorable evenings I've spent were at Gone With The Wind costume balls in Atlanta.  If an opportunity should arise that allows you to attend a ball, wedding reception or large party, I can’t stress enough how wonderful your experience will be.  The scope of the events, including the hall, music, company and the vision you’ll be in your dress will leave you with a lifelong memory.