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Ball gowns of the 1860s

A ball gown is the most formal female attire for social occasions. According to rules of etiquette, a ball gown must be worn where "white tie" or "evening dress" is specified on the invitation. It is traditionally a full-skirted gown reaching at least to the ankles, made of luxurious fabric, delicately and exotically trimmed. Most versions are cut off the shoulder with decollete necklines. Such gowns are typically worn with a stole (a formal shawl in expensive fabric), cape or cloak in lieu of a coat, "good" (couture or vintage) jewellery and opera-length gloves. Standard accessories are dancing shoes and a clutch style evening bag. Where "state decorations" are to be worn, they are on a bow pinned to the chest, and married women wear a tiara if they have one. The ball-gown shape has changed little since the mid-19th century. Although artificial fabrics are now sometimes used, the most common fabrics are satin, silk, taffeta and velvet with trimmings of lace, pearls, sequins, embroidery, ruffles and ruching.

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The elements of ladies' white tie attire

According to rules of etiquette and attire, ladies must wear a ball gown to events where men are required to wear white tie attire. The elements of ladies' white tie attire could include:

Optional:

  • state decorations - if specified on invitation; worn on a bow pinned to the chest
  • tiaras - If married and the event does not take place in a hotel.[1]

Debutantes

For their debuts, debutantes wear long white ball gowns. They also wear long white leather gloves that go well above the elbow and that close with small pearl buttons at the wrist. Their jewellery is understated and suitable for a young lady about to be formally presented to society for the first time.

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