How to Dress For The Edwardian Ball ~ Part III: The Gentlemen
By Amber Clisura and Aaron Muszalski
Part III: The Gentlemen
And now, something for the Gents.
We could spend days talking about the three-piece suit and how it revolutionized men’s attire (or, in our opinion, destroyed much of its creativity), but this isn’t a history lesson. This is practical advice on how you can use the Edwardian Ball as an opportunity to explore some of your own inherent creativity—even if it’s been lying dormant for years, or shallowly breathing through the tiny air holes of “casual fridays”.
As Amber said in her first post, men do have it a little easier when it comes to dressing for the Ball. You can always simply buy (or rent) a great suit and hat. After all, every man should have at least one good suit. Make the Edwardian Ball your excuse, and go shopping. Buy something classic, ideally in black or dark grey. You’ll look sharp and feel good.
Already have a suitable suit? Want to take it a bit further? The first—and easiest—stop on your journey is the wonderful world of accessories. For Edwardian men, this most commonly means three things: hats, mustaches, and spectacles.
When shopping for their first Edwardian Ball, many men reflexively reach for a top hat. But not everyone looks great in a standard top hat, nor is a top hat a requirement for a successful Edwardian look. What’s more important is to find a hat in a size and style that works for you.
We suggest working with an experienced haberdasher. Someone who can look at your face and help you select a hat that compliments it. While there are many fine hat shops in the Bay Area, we would recommend buying a truly special hat from one of the following stores.
If you’re new to hats, try Goorin Bros.. Most of their hats only come in S-M-L sizing so the fit may not be spectacular. However their Heritage collection is very well made (in the USA!) at the original 1885 factory. Their styles are contemporary reworkings of classic shapes.
Paul’s Hats takes hat making for men to a fantastic level. These are incredible creations, all lovingly made. At Paul’s, you’re making an investment that should last a lifetime, so don’t cheap out: buy the hat box, get the wool spray for water protection, and get a nice hat brush. If you’re not yet ready to take that leap, don’t fret—Paul’s also has some fine hats available for rental.
And of course, many excellent hats can be found at the Ball’s Vendor Bazaar.
What’s the best style of hat for the ball? The one you feel best in.
Edward Gorey’s characters frequently feature fantastical facial hair, making mustaches a common component of many a man’s Edwardian accoutrements. (Whew!) While some men might be hirsute enough to manifest a mustache or beard overnight, others need help. That’s where a costume mustache comes in.
First, decide who you want to be. Casanova or villain? Mysterious stranger or surrealist steampunk? Do you want to create an exaggerated caricature, or go for something more realistic? There are options available in each category, so take a moment to consider your desired persona first.
For a realistic mustache, you can’t do better than Kryolan Professional Make-Up. This is no Halloween Superstore, people. This is the velvet goldmine of make-up for costuming, the store where all the professional models, actors, and stylists go to make great looks happen.
Bring some reference images of the look you’re envisioning and head to Kryolan. There they will provide you with the finest in faux mustaches, beards, and mutton chops. If you ask nicely, the fine people behind the counter will even walk you through the application and removal process. Kryolan makes a quality product, which can last for years with proper care and storage.
[It’s true. I’ve had one of their mustaches for almost a decade. What? Sometimes us gals need mustaches too! –Amber]
Once you have your stuff, practice application. Now this is important fellas. Don’t wait until an hour before the ball. Go home, and try it right away, while the instructions are still fresh in your mind. Try it twice.
An important part of making fake facial hair work is to get comfortable with it. Don your ‘stache and make dinner. Have a cocktail, smoke a cigarette (if you do that sort of thing.) Basically live in that hair for a while so when you go to the ball you’re not preoccupied with your mustache. Ever see a woman constantly tugging at a really tight dress that she’s not comfortable in? Yeah, you don’t want that do you? Practice.
If, on the other hand (on the other lip?) you desire a more exaggerated, theatrical look, local crafter Nifer Kilakila of NifNaks makes one of the most amazing 100% merino wool costume mustaches money can buy. These fun mustaches are easy to pop on and off (even while you’re at the ball) and come in a variety of dramatic styles, from the bushy Zeppelin to the slender Dali. Appropriately enough, she even offers one called The Edwardian.
Spectacles and monocles are an easy way to give your costume a more period look. Cheap, costume glasses can be easily ordered over the Internet, or bought in person at many Bay Area costume shops, including Costumes on Haight, and Piedmont Boutique. Monocles can also be bought, or improvised by buying a pair of John Lennon style specs, snipping off one lens, and attaching a length of jewelry chain.
For all of these accessories and more, don’t forget to browse the ball’s own Vendor Bazaar. The Bazaar is open both nights during the event, as well as during the day on Saturday.
Suit Yourself… Or Don’t
We hear you. Some of you simply don’t feel comfortable in a suit. Or perhaps you’re in the opposite situation: you wear a suit daily, and look to the Ball as an opportunity to take a break and be more expressive in your attire.
Whatever your motivations, take heart. There are plenty of ways to look great at the Ball without wearing a suit. Here are just some of the possible alternatives—including a few taken directly from the work of Edward Gorey himself!
Worn with (or without) a shirt, a vest offers a simple and comfortable look.
Pair a stylish vest with a gray shirt for a strong, youthful look. Tip: The more spectacular the vest, the less people will notice the shirt. The more spectacular your physique, the less people will notice either.
Big (Fake) Fur Coats
Gorey loved fur coats, both for his characters as well as in real life. He even designed his own line of them once, for Ben Kahn Furs in New York City. (Before you get too upset by this, it’s worth noting that, in the years before his death, Gorey underwent a change of heart, going so far as to open portions of his home to a family of raccoons that finally settled in the attic, something he described as “an act of penance for having once worn their fur”. In his will, he left his entire estate to the care and welfare of animals.)
These days, a fur coat look can be ethically achieved with the use of synthetic fur (sometimes called fun fur), readily available online as well as at some retail fabric stores. A yard or two of this material, cut and safety pinned to the collar of a dark topcoat, can create a strikingly Gorey-esque effect. Or you can go all the way, and make or buy a whole fun fur coat.
The advantage of a fur coat is that you needn’t worry about anything else. Provided you don’t take it off, you could be wearing jeans and a t-shirt underneath. The drawback is, of course, that it can be extremely hot, especially in a crowded ballroom. But it’s an incredibly dramatic look, provided you’re willing to suffer a little.
A surprising number of Gorey’s characters can be seen wearing what are clearly Converse’s iconic tennis shoe. Like Fennis, for instance.
Fennis’ look is easy to achieve: skinny black jeans, a black turtleneck, black or grey gloves, guyliner, and a pair of white Converse. Walk about rubbing your hands together saying things like “reaaaaaaaaaally?” and “excellent” in your best Mr. Burns voice and everyone will think that you know exactly what you’re doing.
For a collegiate look, similar to Marsh Maryrose’s, pick up a cheap wooden tennis racquet from Goodwill. (Or, if you’re familiar with Marsh’s story, an old shovel.) While you’re thrift shopping, find a large turtleneck sweater in white or tan. Cut out a capital letter “H” from craft felt (available at art supply, craft or fabric stores), and affix it to the sweater using a hot melt glue gun. Finish off the outfit with a pair of slim fitting jeans and your trusty Converse.
Or, for an even more sporting look, find a pair of old tweed trousers. Cut the bottoms off at mid-calf, then use safety pins to gather them at the knees. Presto! Instant knickers. Note that you’ll also need a pair of knee-high (or taller) socks as well.
The Doubtful Guest
Every year, the centerpiece of the ball is an adaptation, in music and performance, of one of Gorey’s tales. This year, that tale is “The Doubtful Guest”. Emulating that book’s titular character offers perhaps one of the easiest costume options of all.
Wear all black, and throw the largest scarf you can find around your neck. (In the book, the Guest’s scarf is red and white striped, but a red, black, or grey scarf will do just as well.) Once again, don a pair of white Converse. Add guyliner or, if you really want to go all-out, black your eyes with some eyeshadow or greasepaint (think skull eye holes).
Congratulations. You’re now the long-lost cousin of the Doubtful Guest. For added effect, lay down in a doorway or two and dolorously refuse to move. People will love you.
The Paintstriped Suit
Are you the crafty type? Enjoy excuses to visit the hardware store (Yes! You can costume from the hardware store!) Here’s how you can create your own Gorey-esque “pinstripe” suit.
First, go to your local Goodwill or anywhere you’re likely to find a cheap old suit. You’re looking for something in a dark, solid color, and as well-tailored to you as you can find. When in doubt, go slimmer than you would normally go for everyday wear. If possible, avoid 100% synthetic fabrics, as they sometimes don’t take spray paint well.
Next, go to the hardware store and purchase masking tape, white spray paint and, if you’re the fussy type, a chalk line. (Latex or acrylic paints also work great, but aren’t as quick as spray paint.)
You are going to use the masking tape to create lines on your suit coat and slacks. Remember, the space in-between the tape will become your stripes, so go for something bold. This isn’t about small lines. This is about making 1/2″ stripes that add an exaggerated, hand-drawn look to your outfit.
Mask off, spray, let dry, repeat. Start with the front of the suit and use newspaper to shield the sleeves. Work in sections like painting a room. Front, then back, then one sleeve, then the other. Same with the slacks; front then back. That chalk line comes in handy if you want really straight lines. For more detailed instructions, follow this tutorial.
Everything Is a Remix
Not satisfied with any of these options? Want to chart your own course, but not sure where to begin? Then cop a move from Picasso, who famously observed that “good artists copy, great artists steal.”
Hop onto the Interwebs and do an image search for “Gorey men”, or browse through some of the many photo galleries from past Edwardian Balls. Find an image you like and then go from there, either copying that look verbatim, or combining it with elements from other outfits or characters to create something new.
A Word on Guyliner
Edward Gorey’s characters, men and women both, often feature dark, dramatically outlined eyes. If you’re up for it, there’s really no better night of the year to give this look a try than the Edwardian. Never applied eyeliner before? Ask a girl to help.
Though it’s not for everyone, guyliner works for a lot more of you than you might think. Trust us.
Gorey Says “Relax”
In closing gentlemen, we’d like to remind you that this is all about fun. Your first foray into costuming doesn’t need to be scary. You don’t have to dress like Steven Ra$pa or a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence if that’s not your bag. Confidence and comfort never go out of style, so don’t wear something in which you feel awkward.
The world of Edward Gorey is all about normal men who look extraordinary… or extraordinarily weird. Whichever approach you choose, don’t stress—have fun with it.
Thanks for reading. We hope to see you all at the Ball!
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. Illustrations by Edward Gorey.
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.