Monday, September 10, 2012

The reverse of depressing

A young woman wearing tulle over silk

You will find advice about dressing for a ball in different dance manuals or etiquette manuals. The details may change but the basic ideas are reliable. Younger women should wear simpler fabrics and flowers, or other ephemeral decorations. Older women may wear richer fabrics and jewelry, including diamonds and other gems.

In this dance manual, the youngest and women are encouraged to wear very light, airy and filmy fabrics lined with silk:

A lady, in dressing for a ball, has first to consider the delicate question of age; and next, that of her position, whether married or single.

As everything about a ball-room should be light, gay, and the reverse of depressing, it is permitted to elderly ladies, who do not dance, to assume a lighter and more effective style of dress than would be proper at the dinner-table, concert, or opera. Rich brocades, if not sombre in hue, and a somewhat profuse display of good jewellery, are permissible.

The toilette of the married and unmarried lady, however youthful the former, should be distinctly marked. Silk dresses are, as a rule, objectionable for those who dance; but the married lady may appear in a moiré of a light tint, or even in a white silk, if properly trimmed with tulle and flowers. Flowers or small feathers for the head. Jewellery should be very sparingly displayed: it is out of place, and whatever is so is in bad taste.

Young unmarried ladies should wear dresses of light materials--the lighter the better. Tarlatane, gauze, tulle, aerophane, net, the finest muslin, lace, and all similar fabrics, are available; such dresses should be worn over a silk slip.
(Ball-room guide. London, F. Warne and Co., 1866. Pp. 17-18.)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Advice against wearing heavy dance shoes for practice, 1817

1810 Gentleman's Full Dress
In our modern nineteenth century dance classes we have to warn dancers not to wear sneakers. Of course, that was not a problem in the past. Here is a brief mention of dance shoes from 1817. You can see from the fashion plate above that men's evening shoes were already very light and unencumbering.

Others pretended that it was of great service to practise, wearing a very heavy shoe, because, on changing it for a light one, the difference was sensibly and advantageously felt in the performance of steps. 

I am of a very different opinion, and think that a person should have, when practising, the full play and use of the various muscles of the instep and of the joints of the toes, which give so much life, expression and elegance to dancing.

(J. H. Gourdoux-Daux, Elements and principles of the art of dancing, as used in the polite and fashionable circles.  Philadelphia, J. F. Hurtel, 1817.p. 19-20)

Let's not forget the women. The fashion plate below shows that women's dancing shoes were also quite light and delicate.

1811 Lady's Ball Dress