How to Dress For The Edwardian Ball ~ Part II: The Ladies
By Amber Clisura
Part II: The Ladies
I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: The Ball is about fun.
While the over-the-top amazing costumes for which the Edwardian Ball is famous send my heart soaring and my imagination reeling, there is a special place reserved in my cold, black, fashionista heart for those of you who have just begun discovering your inner costume geek: folks who took a chance, stepped out of their comfort zone, and had a passion ignited in them. People whose greatest accessory is the smile they’re wearing.
It doesn’t take much — sometimes all you need to step from the familiar to the fanciful is one or two carefully selected items. That’s what we’ll focus on in this post, beginning with options for the ladies. (Don’t fret gents — We’ll get to you next, in Part III.)
Many of you gals have come to the ball before. Perhaps you’ve even bought some accessories from me, or a fascinator from Paul’s Hats, or some bloomers from Five & Diamond. But whether this is your fifth Edwardian or your first, here are some simple additions you can make to your costuming repertoire to take your outfits to the next level.
My suggestions aren’t just for the Edwardian Ball, of course. Many of these pieces will be useful for a surprising variety of fancy dress parties.
When In Doubt: A Small Hat And A Wig
“Who cares what they’re wearing on Main Street or Saville Row… it’s what you wear from ear to ear – and not from head to toe — that matters.” ~ Annie, The Musical
This is going to sound so very simple, but I can’t tell you how many hairpieces I’ve purchased from beauty supply stores in Oakland. See that photo of me at the bottom of this article? That look was achieved by employing a wig and a big piece of feather boa. All I’m wearing is a white blouse, a corset and a pair of bloomers I made myself. With such a dramatic hair and hat combo, you can get away with almost anything for the rest of your outfit.
I’m not the only one who knows this either. Get a tube of e6000—the craft glue of the gods—and ANYTHING can be a hat. Piece of twig covered in spider webs from Halloween? E6000 a hairclip to that and BAM – wee hat. Bat wings out of wire and craft felt? E6000 and a hair comb – HOOHA! Wee hat.
A hat is anything you say it is.
Not ready for a glue habit? Here are three professionals who’ll be happy to doff your head with their hand-made creations:
Good — Justin Credible makes an affordable wee hat and fascinator line. And Kotter Home makes a fascinator headband line that is well priced enough that you could buy two and double up on them for a bigger look. This and a nice hair fall, and you’re well on your way.
Better — A nice middleground is Blackpin Hats: a lot of the flair and finery with a little less of the old world craft work that is the hallmark of House of Nines and Dollymop Designs. Again, finding a great combination of a hairpiece and wig can build on this headband-style hat, forming the basis of many good outfits to come.
Best — I’d sell my brother for a hat from House of Nines (Sorry, bro). In their Etsy shop right now there is a hat that I’m lusting after something fierce. House of Nines hats are all hand-made, using traditional methods, materials, and fastidious care. Along with the similarly amazing Dollymop Designs, this is some of the finest millinery you can currently buy.
A Course In Corsetry
A corset can transform your whole look, providing the centerpiece for a whole outfit. Moreover, it creates the graceful, stylized waist and bustline which instantaneously embodies the bewitching women’s fashions of the Edwardian and Victorian eras.
When buying a corset, you want to think about which one you could utilize most in your costumes. Stay away from bright colors and patterns. While they will look good with one specific outfit, they might not mix and match for multiple wearings.
“Happiness is the sublime moment when you get out of your corsets at night.” ~ Joyce Grenfell
Underbust or overbust? While sweet-heart, overbust, Victorian, or Alexandria corsets are all lovely, an underbust or waist cincher style is going to be more versatile. You can wear this style under dresses, over dresses, with skirts, bloomers, knickers, and so forth, making it a good starter style. Something you can play with for a while, as you get a better idea of what you want in a more expensive corset.
Here are three excellent starter corsets. I’ve owned or worn all of them, and they are great.
Good — The Little Black Corset. This is the cocktail dress of corsets, the easiest of easy. Lovely cashmere wool lays cleanly and smoothly over the steel boning. A lifetime gaurentee and solid construction make this $99.00 purchase well worth it as starter corset. Just don’t expect it to be the most comfortable corset in the world.
Better — The Silver Medal of Corsets. So the funny thing here is that I have this corset in three different colorways. It is the “Better” corset quality even though many of these corsets are cheaper than the Timeless Trends folks. All of their corsets have a built in modesty panel so your back, dress, shirt etc will be hidden through the lacing of the corset. The reason for the cheaper price? Polyester fabrics and made overseas.
Best — Dark Garden RTW FTW! I have worn Dark Garden’s RTW (Ready To Wear) corset for costume loans, fashion galas, and a myriad of other events through the years. I have been corseted down to 25” in their RTW corsets and have NEVER felt better. The RTW really are a fantastic investment, a one of a kind hand-made-in-San Francisco corset. It’s not to your measure (for that you’ll need to order one of Dark Garden’s made to order pieces), but it is unquestionably still a remarkable corset.
Hustle Your Bustle
Finally, you’ll need a skirt to go with your corset, to give your outfit a long, sweeping line. If you choose to fashion a makeshift bustle with your skirt, the classic curves your corset creates will be beautifully emphasized.
My favorite skirt look is the bustle look of the Late Victorian/Early Edwardian era. This sort of skirt can be worn to Dickens Fair or the Edwardian Ball, and as you get more and more comfortable, out to other cocktail-style events. It isn’t overly dramatic and can be layered or worn in many different ways.
One easy and practical way to get this look is by layering two separate skirts together: one casual, and one more costumey . For example, a nice maxi skirt in a solid color can be worn casually. By adding a second, fancier piece to wear over it, such as this adorable little bustle skirt, you have a cute Edwardian skirt all for about $110.
If you’d like to build on this look, add a nicely tailored men’s shirt. The collar on a men’s shirt going to be higher and larger, mimicking an Edwardian style collar. Then replace the white buttons with black buttons, or just paint them over. This adds a graphic look to the outfit, suggestive of the characters in Gorey’s books.
Another great way to put some hustle in your bustle is by visiting the Ball’s Vendor Bazaar. The Bazaar is open both during the event, as well as during the day on Saturday. A number of vendors will be offering bustles and skirts, many of which are hand-crafted, like the colorful creations of KrakenWhip.
That’s it for now — See you again in Part III, The Men!
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 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.
Have a memorable story from the Ball? Share it with us, and you could win tickets to the Edwardian!