Dance Or Die

I received an invitation from a friend in New Orleans to mask in tandem with her this Halloween. It was, to be perfectly frank, the most excellent invitation I have yet received.

So…cause I’m weird like this, would you be interested in dressing up as French ladies going to a bals des victims with me?

Madame, fear not: I am just that weird and delighted by the macabre.

Also, I have been looking for an excuse to make an empire/Regency gown but have not had an Event push it to the top of my costume-making list. Just wanting to is, alas, not quite enough for me to prioritize something.

I had never heard of this phenomenon (or 200-year-old urban legend) called bals des victimes before, nor had I heard of women wearing red ribbon necklaces. All of these commemorations of the terror make sense to me; I would actually find it more difficult to believe such balls didn’t happen than that they did. But even if these were only rumors, the idea has power.

As FIELLE blog put it so very aptly,

It is extraordinary to see illustrations of women of this period with shorn hair, in complete contrast to our ideas of the fashion of that time. Dresses were in the style of underclothes, as this was how one met with Madame Guillotine – and a red ribbon was worn around the neck, grimly recalling the manner in which the aristocracy met its end. Even jewellery in the shape of the guillotine was worn.

I will comb my hair up in the back and make curls out of my front, and if I can lay hands on a guillotine charm then I will wear that…somewhere. Not sure yet whether as a pendant or a bracelet or earrings.

As to the dress…I will probably cheat the period just a bit and go more 1810 than 1795. I like the chemise dress intensely more than the round gown style from the turn of the 19th century, and most of the particularly delightful versions of it I have seen were from a few years later. But since those were British we can always make a Gallic shrug and say, “But of course Parisian ladies had it first.”

Don’t worry…my journey to making this dress will be fully documented here. I will have to research the styles, then find an historical costuming book that has either the particular style I want or several similar styles that I could amalgamate into what I want, then pattern it, then find fabric (that might be the hardest part!), and then at last construct it. Oh, yes, and decide if I will be making stays to go under it or just a chemisette. Regarding construction, there is a possibility that I will choose to hand-sew the gown. I have been wanting to make a dress by hand for a while now, and for some reason Regency gowns seem like they would lend themselves to that pretty well.

Regardless, I now have my next historical costuming project. After, that is, I finish my spencer. And a couple 1950s vintage Vogue summer dresses. And a couple pairs of pants a friend commissioned, and the 18th century gentleman’s/pirate shirt I’ve been slowly sewing (by hand) for over a year (working less than infrequently!), and half a dozen other things. Wow. My creative ADD really is as bad in my sewing as it is in my writing….

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2 Comments

Filed under Ramblings

2 responses to “Dance Or Die

  1. Deandre Brady

    The celebratory atmosphere following the “Reign of Terror” gave way to a number of frivolous yet gruesome fashions and pastimes, one of which was the Victim’s Ball. In order to qualify for admittance in one of these sought after soirees one had to to be a close relative or spouse of one who had lost their life to the guillotine. Invitations were so coveted that papers proving your right to attend had to be shown at the door, and some were even known to forge this certificate in their eagerness. All the rage at these grand balls was to have the hair cut high up off the neck, in imitation of “le toilette du condamne” where the victim’s hair is cut so as not to impede the efficiency of the blade. There were several popular hairstyles including cheveux à la titus or à la victime for both women and men, where the hair is given very short and choppy cut, and the “dog ears” worn by Muscadins, where long flops of hair are left on either side of the face, but cut right up to the hairline on the back of the neck. And for the ladies, a thin red velvet ribbon worn round the neck, or red ribbons worn croisures à la victime, a kind of reverse fichu, or ceinture croisée, across the back of the bodice forming a symbolic “x marks the spot” across the upper back.

    • Thank you for the informative reply! I hadn’t heard about the different hairstyles specifically, just that the vogue was an exposed back of the neck. And an “x marks the spot” on your own back is so…garishly grisly. Love it.

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