Reader Kate from the Washington, DC area wrote to say that she empathized with the challenge of finding classic black tie attire in the U.S. as experienced by a recent Inaugural Ball correspondent. On the flip side, her recent experience in Vienna provides an insight of what a genuine ball should look be like.
While I did not attend any of the Inaugural “Balls” (either official nor unofficial), my husband and I regularly attend real balls with ballroom dancing where the guests are ladies and gentlemen. We just returned from Vienna, Austria where we attended the Ball der Offiziere (Officers’ Ball) and the Ball der Pharmacie (Pharmacists’ Ball) at the Hofburg Palace.
The first one obviously had an abundance of mess dress and ceremonial/gala uniforms, but a good number of guests were in either white or black tie. Whilst I did see one or two long ties, despite a note in the programme that these were not acceptable, the majority of the 3,500+ guests, spread out over 21 different rooms including the main ballroom, were properly attired and very well behaved. As it was cold and the streets were covered in snow, the sensible Austrian ladies brought their dancing slippers in a bag, a practice I’ve been following since the age of 16, and arrived/departed dressed in boots and swathed in long velvet and wool coats and cloaks. There were a few furs, but as an animal lover I was happy to observe that furs appear to be on the way out.
On Saturday evening, we returned once again to the beautifully decorated Hofburg for the Ball der Pharmacie, which was decidedly more civilian in nature. Granted, there was a smattering of mess dress uniforms, but the majority of the almost 5,000 guests were in either white or black tie — with an almost even split of 50/50. Based on my observations, and photos that have since been posted, most gentlemen were quite properly attired, although some young Austrians seem to prefer wing collars with their dinner jackets. I did see a few awful ensembles, but overall the fit and quality of the clothes was so much better than at similar US events. Also, I think I only saw one or two men without a waist covering, while Americans seem to have abandoned the idea of a waistcoat or cummerbund almost entirely.