Etiquette Hints for the Ballroom Dressed to Impress

Hillgrove's Complete Practical Guide to the Art of Dancing (1863) offers a vivid description of the importance of dress in the European ball culture:

Ladies should remember that men look to the effect of dress in setting off the figure and countenance of a lady, rather than to its cost. Few men form estimates of the value of ladies' dress. This is subject for female criticism. Beauty of person and elegance of manners in woman will always command more admiration from the other sex than costliness of clothing.

In another chapter, Hillgrove recommends that on entering a ballroom, all thought of self should be dismissed: "The pretty ambition of endeavoring to create a sensation by either dress, loud talking, or unusual behavior, is to be condemned." Not only the dress was im portant; society ladies had to take care of a fashionable hairstyle as well. In 1860, Florence Hartley recommends in The Ladies' Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness that "one has to be very careful, when dressing for a ball, that the hair is firmly fastened, and the coiffure properly adjusted. Nothing is more annoying that to have the hair loosen or the headdress fall off in a crowded ballroom." Accessories played a key role in fashionable dressing for social ballroom events. Henry P. Willis advises in Etiquette, and the Usages of Society (1860) that "ladies should draw on their gloves (white or yellow) in the dressing room, and they should not have them off for one moment in the dancing rooms. However, at supper the gloves can be taken off, because "nothing is more preposterous than to eat in gloves."

emerged among European and African immigrants. Since earlier dances did not have the close body contact of the tango, this new dance was considered very risqué at the time. With its sensual rhythm and intense body contact, the tango had a distinctly sexual connotation. In fact, the tango was at first deemed so illicit that it was thought suitable only for prostitutes and their pimps. However, when the tango was legitimized and came to Europe, it was soon taken up by Parisian high society, and ballroom fashion had to be adapted to this new "sexual" dance form. Dance costumes were designed to be more tight-fitting and embellished with shiny paillettes and stones. Soon the tango dress style spread from cabarets and theaters to evening fashion. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the cinema industry has picked up the tango fashion in scenes of cult films such as Moulin Rouge.

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