Ball Dress

the attraction of modesty[Written back during 42nd’s second inauguration…] Well, it’s inaugural weekend here in Washington, D.C., and the city is just swarming with cowboy hats and security forces. I’m terribly excited to have been invited to the “Popular Vote Inaugural Ball,” sponsored by my lovely friends Molly, Jocelyn, and Bryan at a private location on Capitol Hill. Casual dresser that I am, I decided to consult my books to help figure out what to wear. The following is from Female Beauty, written by Mrs. A. Walker in 1840. Now where did I put my ostrich feathers?

1840: Ball Dress

The ball dress requires a union of beauty, elegance, lightness, and magnificence. All the resources of the toilet must be lavished upon it. No trivial embroidery or ornaments of gold or silver must glitter there: their place is supplied with pearls, diamonds and other jewels. . . .

For full ball dress: ~ white satin shoes; very beautiful open work silk stockings; satin slip trimmed with blonde; dress composed of the most magnificent materials, such as lace elegantly worked in colonades, with two rich flounces; figured blonde trimmed with blonde; similar materials plain but embroidered with variegated silks; the blonde trimmings raised up with flowers; trimmings formed of several bouquets of flowers, and raised by a bouquet on the knee; body ornamented with draperies of blonde, fastened on the shoulders by ornaments similar to those of the trimming (except the flowers, for nothing is in worse taste than wearing flowers on the shoulders); a bouquet at the side; head-dress of flowers, pearls, ostrich feathers or marabouts; jewels of pearl, amethyst, ruby, topez, chrysolite, or diamonds; scarf or shawl of blonde. . . .

It was formerly the custom to wear ball-dresses so low in front, as almost to amount to an indecent exposure of those charms which cease to be attractive when unblushingly obtruded. The fashion has changed, and the ball-room no longer presents a collection of semi-nude female figures.

Through a light tissue of tulle or gauze, the skin appears much whiter, more beautiful, and it conceals the perspiration and redness, which often streak the skin and the neck, in dancing. Besides the attraction of modesty, the most powerful charm that women possess, will make this simple fichu the most elegant part of dress.

Source: Walker, Mrs. A. Female Beauty, as Preserved and Improved by Regimen, Cleanliness and Dress. New York: Scofield and Voorhies, 1840.
~ pp. 355-57 ~