Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Dancing at the White Ball

Mrs. Hermann Oelrichs in her gown for the white ball
Let's take a look at the second half of the NYT article about the White Ball. There was discussion at the time that this ball was technically not a "bal blanc," which was the term for a ball at which debutantes were introduced.  Some people felt it was a "bal poudre," a costume ball with eighteenth century style powdered hair. Since it was a memorable event that no one else managed to copy, White Ball seems the most appropriate title.

It appears from the photo that Mrs. Oelrichs did not wear her hair powdered, though her dress does seem more historically inspired than fashionably up to the minute.

The ball began at 10 pm, had a supper (in that spectacular outdoor bower) at midnight and went nearly to dawn which would have been about 5:30 am. Mrs Oelrichs would, of course, have asked a friend or family member, in this case her sister, to help her greet the guests. I believe Mr. Oelrichs was careful to get out of town before he could be expected to play host.

The ball included a cotillion, which was a collection of dance games and prize give-aways. In keeping with the general excess of Newport, the cotillion favors are far more than mere trinkets. The "flower figure" was part of the cotillion, and probably involved giving out fresh flowers to the ladies. Hostesses vied to have the most fashionable flowers for their cotillions. I've seen American Beauty roses mentioned for one cotillion in the 1890s. Mrs. Oelrichs would have picked some of her most outgoing friends to lead the cotillion and we see that Harry Lehr was given that honor.

Here is the rest of the New York times article about Teresa Fair Oelrichs's White Ball:

Harry Lehr’s Dictum Disregarded at Newport Function.
Decorations All in White and Women Guests and Servants in Costumes of White.
Special to the New York Times


Mrs. Oelrichs was assisted in receiving by her sister, Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt, Jr. Both wore handsome white satin gowns and jewels. The cotillion was led by Harry S. Lehr with Mrs. Vanderbilt, and in the favors the general color scheme of white was carried out.

The floral figure introduced large stalks of white hollyhocks. The favors for the women included handsome lace fichus of Marie Antoinette designs, wreathes of lilies of the valley, and white roses. For the men there were English briar pipes in white leather cases, silver table ornaments in white enamel, and smoking sets in silver. Many of the favors were purchased in Europe by Mrs Oelreichs, and included the choicest novelties of the Parisian shops.

 Miss Alice Roosevelt was among the guests and wore a quaint gown of white mulle, with a bunch of white roses tied at the side. Mrs. Alfred G. Vanderbilt was in white satin, trimmed with renaissance lace. 

                Many of the women had their hair dressed a la Pompadour, puffed and powdered in white, adding much to the general effect of the scene. 

                Two bands furnished continuous music for the dancing, and during the supper, which was served at midnight. The dance did not begin until 10 o’clock, and was continued until nearly morning.

                The guests included not only the majority of the summer residents, but many others who came to Newport for the occasion.
(The New York Times, August 20, 1904.)

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