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How to Dress For The Edwardian Ball ~ Part I

By Amber Clisura

Erica Mulkey at the Edwardian Ball 2011 - Photo ©2011 Neil Girling / The Blight

To take my work seriously would be the height of folly.” ~ Edward Gorey

Looking through the countless photographs of people in their Edwardian Ball finery, it’s easy to get intimidated. Hell, I’m a professional fashion designer and even I’m regularly overawed by what I see. But while I very much appreciate the amazing, over-the-top creations that the Edwardian Ball inspires each year, I’m here to remind you all that, despite appearances, the Edwardian Ball is, at its heart, about fun.

It’s about dressing in something other than jeans and a t-shirt (the only real dress code rule of the ball) for one night, and it’s about being artful. And that’s where I come in. I’ve written this series of posts to help you, the newly initiated, find your right groove, costume, and attitude. To help you understand that anything is allowed as long as you believe it is allowed.

Remember: The Edwardian Ball is a place to let yourself have fun and we’re all here for you to make that happen.

He and Miss Skrim-Pshaw

“He and Miss Skrim-Pshaw mentioned a great many people who had done things in their conversation” — Illustration by Edward Gorey, 1965

Edward Who?

Edward Gorey (1925-2000) was an American writer and artist noted for his playfully macabre illustrated books, including “The Epiplectic Bicycle”, “The Doubtful Guest”, and of course his infamous abecedaria, “The Gashlycrumb Tinies”. Many people also know Gorey from the animated intro sequence to the enduringly popular public television series “Mystery”.

Gorey’s stories are a fabulous hunting ground for ideas on how to dress. Not only because they are fantastical drawings but because of the span of time and space in which these drawings take place. Anywhere from 1850s to the 1920s means it can be corsets or flappers, Edwardian or Gatsby, Victorian or Fantasy, and let’s not forget you could always be a bug.

This diversity means you don’t need to find a perfectly period-accurate hoop skirt just to have a good time and “fit in”. This is San Francisco darlings… everyone fits in somehow.

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence - ©2010 Neil Girling / The Blight

Tactical Costuming

Let’s start with the easiest way first. This is for the person who doesn’t really want to go headlong into the costume world. You want the tactical strike. You are the Delta Force of costuming. So to you I say: Costume rental. Not just for Halloween anymore.

There are cavalcades of shops in the San Francisco Bay Area that do costume rentals. Do some Google searches for the time period you want (Victorian, Gatsby, Edwardian etc.) print out a few pages (get a few screen shots) and say: “Make me look like this please and thank you.” Easy. Peasy. This will also allow you to grow into the next stage rather easily. Because let me tell you, it’s a slippery slope. You rent one day and the next thing you know you’re buying a Dark Garden corset and a hat by House of Nines.
Edwardian Ball 2011 - ©2011 Neil Girling / The Blight
The next stage is the “I’d like to have some fun costumes in my wardrobe but how do I shop for something other than at Bloomingdale’s?” (Delta Forcers, join me in the next paragraph…)

Wear What You Own

To those who have no costume rentals but want to start growing their costume repertoire. Have you been to a fancy wedding? Christmas party for work? Cocktail party? Bar Mitzvah? Well you’re halfway there. Go, get those clothes and put them on for Friday night. Friday night is fancy, but it’s not THE BALL (dum-dum-DUM!).

By dressing up in your Sunday best you will feel comfortable because they are your clothes and you’ll still fit in to the overall theme of “This is a fancy dress party.” Friday night is the night where people can dry run their ideas, their costumes, and ramp up for the big night. There are plenty of people who will be over the top, and there will be plenty of people who are doing what you’re doing—gathering ideas.
Paul's Hats at the Edwardian Ball 2011 - ©2011 Neil Girling / The Blight

The Vendor Bazaar Is Your Friend

This is the magic right here: You know what the ball has in droves? Vendors. A whole floor of them. Hats, pants, dresses, jewelry, corsets, buttons, watches, gloves, new, vintage, handmade, and the list goes on. Come dressed in your own clothes, or your Delta Force costume, and then look at what people are wearing.

Seriously, take pictures! There is nothing that people who are all dressed up love more than having their picture taken.

Sidle on up next to them and smile. If you like someone’s hairstyle, take a photo. Someone’s shoes? SNAP IT! Want to know where they got those shoes? ASK! I’m serious. Don’t have fear. Fear is the enemy of fun. This is your research night. So open a notes app on your phone and go to town.

Edwardian Ball 2011 - ©2011 Neil Girling / The BlightHow do they do it? Ask them and find out!

The vendors are all on one floor so go downstairs and try on everything! Figure out what you like best. Want a hat most of all? Great! Create an outfit around that object. The Ball is about FUN. Not fashion. Don’t take it too seriously.

The vendors are here to help you be fabulous. Find one you like and tell them what you’re looking for in an outfit. Any vendor will have another friend at the ball (or five) that will be able to move you from booth to booth to get you exactly what you need in the price range you can afford.

Suit & ‘Stache — Two Tips For The Mens

Men, you have it kind of easy. Find a great suit (or rent one) and throw on a mustache. You’re done. We can go into more detail about the fun you can have later, but for now – let’s employ the K.I.S.S. mantra that runs my life; Keep It Simple Sir.

2010 Edwardian Ball - Photo ©2010 Neil Girling / The Blight Edwardian Ball 2010 - ©2010 Neil Girling / The Blight Danger Ranger and Dusty at the Edwardian Ball 2011 - Photo ©2011 Neil Girling / The BlightKeep It Simple, Sir: Every man looks dashing in basic black formalwear

For a theatrical flourish, add a woolen mustacheFor a theatrical flourish, add a woolen mustache

These two techniques are great to start off the beginner. But what about the next stage? Maybe you went last year and you want to level up for this year! Well stay tuned and we can lead you through some things that you can do for your costuming style that will bring more and more to your bag of tricks to use at the Ball, for other fancy dress occasions, or maybe just for your everyday life.

That’s it for now — See you soon in Part II.

Amber Clisura

Amber Clisura

Amber Clisura is not just a woman, but rather a force of style and grace. Whether it be strumming her banjolele with a merry congregation of jerks, or slapping dazzling garments on models strutting their stuff on runways in Western Europe, this woman knows where’s it at.

Born and raised in San Francisco she graduated from the California College of Arts & Crafts with a dual degree in Fine Art Textile and Fashion Design. Bored with the corporate fashion world she started her own company Doedel Design and is launching her new line Salt Clothing in March of 2013. She’s doing all of this while not wearing pants.

Photos by John Adams and Neil Girling / The Blight

This post is part of our Fashion Guide, a series designed to help you learn more about the many ways to dress for the Ball.


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