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Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Edwardian Ball: A Newbie's Guide

The Edwardian Ball is here, and I don't have a thing to wear...

That's a common phrase heard in certain circles this time of year in San Francisco. But what IS the Edwardian Ball, really? And what can you expect if you attend?

For the five or so years since I've been involved with burlesque, I've heard about the Ball. And for the past couple of two years I've said that I would attend the Edwardian Ball "next year." Well, next year has arrived, and I'm all set to go. And I must say that I've become quite fascinated by the event.

As it's in my nature to prepare as much as possible for an event of such magnitude, I've researched the Ball by reading various online articles, as well as by talking to some of the people in the burlesque community who have been to the Ball in past years or who are actively participating in it this year.

I will probably edit this post after this weekend, but while the research is still fresh in my mind I'll post it now. And who knows? It may help those of you who are going for the first time this year.

What is the Edwardian Ball?

The Edwardian Ball is a celebration of the famed American writer and artist Edward Gorey. This year, there will be performances based on his work, "The Eleventh Episode," which actually was written under his pseudonym, Raddory Gewe. He was fond of anagrams.

Photo by nightshade,
The show is presented by the Vau de Vire Society and Paradox Media. Vau de Vire is behind such events as the Bohemian Carnival, and they've performed with Primus and the Dresden Dolls, among many others. They're one of the Bay Area's premier avant-garde circus and dance companies.

This year, the Ball in San Francisco will consist of two evenings, Friday and Saturday, January 21 and 22. On Friday, it take the form of the Edwardian World's Faire, which features the Edwardian Midway and an exposition of steam machinery by Kinetic Steam Works. There will also be live music, dancing, a fashion show, circus and vaudeville acts, and more. On Saturday, it will the Edwardian Ball which will feature a performance of "The Eleventh Episode," with original music and choreography by Rosin Coven and the Vau de Vire Society. There will also be music (by "Belle of the Ball", Jill Tracy, see the video below), and performances by Fou Fou HA!, Le Cancan Bijou and more. Both days will feature ballroom dancing, a vendor bazaar and gaming parlour, a hall of fine arts, and cabinets of curiosity and natural wonders.

Edwardian Ball Fashion and Costumes

This is the issue at the forefront of most attendees' minds. What the do you wear? After all, it is a costume party/dance. And some of the most creative designers and artists around will be in attendance! It seems that much of the appeal of the Ball is to admire all of the creative and wonderful costumes, not to mention to wear one.

Photo by nightshade,
So how does one dress? Edwardian Ball fashion is a mash-up of Victorian, Edwardian, steampunk, goth, and pretty much anything else you can imagine. One of the tenets of the event is that historical accuracy is not emphasized, unlike some of the other costume events in the Bay Area. The focus is more on creativity.

For some, preparations start right after the last Ball ended. There is research into fashion history. Various steampunk characters are examined and imagined. Patterns are drawn up and materials are searched for online and in small shops around the area. These attendees are the ones you see pictures of when you search for "Edwardian Ball photos." Like the fellow to the left.

Some examples of what has been worn in the past may be found at,, or on Neil Girling's Flickr account.

If you're into costuming, this is an opportunity for you to let it all hang out, so to speak. Says Miz Margo (aka burlesque performer The Flying Fox), one of the DJs at the Ball this weekend, "DRESS UP!! Nothing is 'too much'. Go dark, surreal, vintage, a charachter out of a Gorey story (human or not!), these days 'steampunk' flies as well..."

Although creating and wearing an elaborate costume is wonderful and encouraged, it's not absolutely necessary. I talked with Anna Q, the vendor coordinator, production assistant, social media director, and secret weapon of the Edwardian Ball, about costuming. "That's the one thing people get hung up about," she said. "But in reality, once you're there, people don't pay that much attention. People hear the word 'ball' and think that they need have to have an elaborate costume, but people shouldn't let that stop them from coming."

You can wear something nice and dressy. For women, something as a simple as a little black dress with accessories will do. 7x7 Magazine has posted its suggestion for what a woman could wear to this year's Ball. As you can see, it's a variation on the little black dress, with some accessories to give it that turn-of-the-century look.

For men, something along the lines of formalwear will do. RJ Johnson of Burlesque Photo of the Day suggested a tuxedo shirt over black slacks would work. If you can find the rest of the tuxedo, so much the better.

If you need some accessories to give your outfit more of a steampunk/goth/Victorian/Edwardian/Goreyan look, you can always find some at the Edwardian Ball's vendor marketplace. In addition to being open during the Ball, it's also free and open to the public noon until 6:00 p.m. on Saturday.

And where else would you find clothing and accessories to wear to the Ball if you don't already have them? One option is to rent from a costume store such as CostumeParty! or Costumes on Haight in San Francisco. I found a Victorian suit with tails at Debbie Lyn's Costumes in Sunnyvale.

Photo by nightshade,
Another option is to buy your costume, which you may want to do if you're planning to attend other similar events. has a list of places in San Francisco and Oakland that specialize in Victorian and Edwardian era clothing.

How much will your costume cost? If you want an entire costume, it could cost you hundreds of dollars even if you rent and buy some accessories. My suit rental plus a top hat and bow tie was a bargain at $60.00. But I will probably purchase a few accessories at the Ball, which will probably put the bill at over $100.00. I imagine that some people spend over $1,000.00, based on the elaborateness of their costumes.

Pre-Show Preparations

Besides preparing your costume, there are a few things that you should to. The first is to obtain Edwardian Ball tickets from a trusted source, like or from Dark Garden (321 Linden, SF) or Distractions (1552 Haight, SF) You don't want to be in a situation where you've put together your attire for the event, then find out when you get to the Ball that it is sold out!

If you're coming from outside of the City, do you want to obtain lodging that is near to the ballroom? It's probably less hectic to have a room where you can put on your costume and crash after the Ball is over. But if you obtain a hotel room, that would inflate your budget. A more frugal approach would be to crash with a friend who lives nearby, and gift him or her with a trinket from the Ball as a thank you gift.

Navigating the Event

I've been told by several people that the lines to get into the Edwardian Ball at the Regency Ballroom are ginormous! So it's probably a good idea to get there very early. You should probably plan to arrive at least an hour before the time you want to get into the Ball (i.e., arrive at 7:00 if you want to be in by 8:00).

And since the Ball will be well-attended, there will probably be lines for concessions. It would probably be a good idea to get food and drink before you arrive at the Regency Center (the Regency Ballroom is in the Regency Center). You wouldn't want to spend most of the night in lines or suffer while standing in line waiting to get in. A glance at Google Earth shows that there are quite a few restaurants and lounges around the area. So no matter what your budget and palate, there's sure to be something to satisfy your thirst and hunger.

Photo by nightshade,
Once you're in, be sure to visit all of the areas of the venue. The Regency Center is a large building with several levels and various rooms. Kingfish of the Hubba Hubba Revue will be the emcee for the Edwardian World's Faire on Friday evening, and he offers this advice for those new to the Edwardian Ball. "The event is *huge* and if you don't move around you will definitely miss stuff. The exhibits on Friday, World's Faire night, are always awesome (I particularly like the operating steam engines from Kinetic Steam Works) and there are rooms and rooms of vendors."

And, like burlesque shows, the Edwardian Ball is a social event. Lots of people attend in groups, and since the Ball attracts like-minded folks from the goth, steampunk, burlesque, and other communities, many people will know a good number of the other attendees.

If you're new to the Ball and don't know many of the other guests, don't despair! Resolve to meet other guests perhaps while waiting in one of the lines. One good strategy to meet people was suggested by RJ Johnson, who said, "Mingling down in the vendor's area is a lot of fun; don't just park yourself in front of the stage or up in the balcony. Be sociable; complimenting folks on their finery is a great way to strike up a conversation if you are a bit shy at such things."

And if you're also a photographer like he is, RJ suggested taking some business card with the web address of where people can find the photos that you take of them.

The Big Picture

Whatever you do, whoever you go as, there's one thing that you need to do: Have fun! It seems pretty common for people to feel pressure and panic about their costumes before the event. In the big picture, however, I don't think anyone will notice that a bow tie is really just a shade off from being perfect for a suit. The main thing is to resolve to have fun, and then to make it so!

If you have any suggestions, questions, or comments about this post, please feel free to leave a comment below.

Have fun, and I'll see you at the Ball!

Note: The Edwardian Ball is going to Los Angeles for one night on Saturday, March 5, at the Music Box in Hollywood. For more details, please visit
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