To understand the Edwardian Ball, you need to take a moment to learn about two Edwards, one of them a king and the other an enigmatic writer who penned books with improbable names like "The Gashlycrumb Tinies."
King Edward VII ruled England from 1901 to 1910. The era that bears his name was, according to Samuel Hynes a time "when the rich were not ashamed to live conspicuously." During the Edwardian period, women wore feathered and flowered hats that were five times the size of their head, and straight-skirted dresses with beaded decorations.
Writer Edward Gorey is famous for his black-and-white illustrations and the strange tales that go with them: houseguests that look vaguely like penguins, women on a lawn playing catch with a human skull, an alphabet book that begins with "A is for Amy who fell down the stairs.
The Vau de Vire Society operates the ball with the blessing of The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust. They create what they call "an elegant and whimsical celebration of art, music, theatre, fashion, technology, circus, and the beloved creations of the late, great author Edward Gorey."
What to Expect at the Edwardian Ball
All of that is easy to say but describing the experience is harder. First-timers may feel a bit like Alice the moment after she stepped through the looking glass as you enter. The San Francisco Chronicle described it as "a surreal atmosphere filled with anachronistic wonders."
The goings-on are also a bit like the first, refined days of the Carnevale in Venice, when the best-costumed attendees posture and preen, in the most sophisticated way they can.
Don't expect over-the-top production numbers at this event - they wouldn't have had those in Edwardian times, either. But that doesn't mean there's nothing to see or do. Live musicians perform. Every year, the organizers stage a musical version of an Edward Gorey tale. Besides that, you can enjoy ballroom dancing, short stage shows, a marketplace, absinthe cocktails, and some fun sideshows. And isn't it fun to just get dressed up and go to a party?
Why Go to the Edwardian Ball
The Edwardian Ball gets high marks for ingenuity and uniqueness. Given the abundance of entertainment they provide and the long hours, the ticket price gives good value for your money.
One of the most enjoyable parts of the event is checking out everyone else's costumes. Most are in the style of the Edwardians, but with ingenuity and imagination that each wearer put into them. Others deviate from the strictly Edwardian look, to wear steampunk and Goth garb, too. To see some great shots of them, search Instagram for hashtag #edwardianball.
The ball is popular with a wide range of ages, from 20-something to 60-plus, making for an enjoyable mix.
Tips for Enjoying The Edwardian Ball
If you've never been to the Ball before, it can be intimidating at first. These tips and resources may help:
Most attendees wear costumes. You might feel a little awkward if you don't do anything at all but never fear: You don't have to over-obsess, either. Look at the photos on the Edwardian Ball website and do a few searches for Edward Gorey drawings to get some inspiration. You can put together a costume on a small budget using items from the closet, supplemented with eBay purchases: a tuxedo vest and bow tie, bowler hat, lacy gloves, and costume jewelry.
Seating is limited, and you will be standing up most of the time. To avoid feeling the need to tweet "my feet were killing me by the end," wear comfortable shoes or consider going VIP, which gives access to seating areas.
If it's a month or less before the balls' date and you don't see a schedule on the event's website, don't fret. They keep booking entertainment as it becomes available and a detailed program may not be published until a few days ahead of time.
If you want to know more about the attire or what to expect, check out the information at About the Ball.
If you want to take pictures (and you will), pocket cameras and phone cameras are allowed, but larger cameras of any kind are not.
Edwardian Ball in San Francisco
The Edwardian Ball is a two-day event, held on a Friday and Saturday in January. The Friday event is called the Edwardian World’s Faire, it is less formal and includes a World's Faire Exposition, variety shows, art, and a vendor marketplace.
Saturday afternoon is the time for Afternoon Tea in the Museum of Wonder when you can shop at the Vendor Bazaar and enjoy tea, edible delights, and pop up performances.
It's not unusual for a long line to form outside the door, especially before the party gets started. Veteran attendees say you should arrive about an hour before you want to get in.
Parking is somewhat hard to find near the venue. If you plan to stay very late, ridesharing may be a good idea. If you drive there, be sure the lot you choose will be open when you're done.
What You Need to Know
The Edwardian Ball in San Francisco is held at the Regency Ballroom on Van Ness. Built in the Edwardian Era, in 1909 and done in beaux-arts style with 35-foot-tall ceilings and 22 chandeliers, it's an elegant backdrop for a fun party.
Get more details and this year's date on the Edwardian Ball website. Tickets go on sale at the end of October. Buy them a few weeks ahead of time to save money and avoid sell-outs.
The Ball's hashtag is #edwardianball. They have a twitter account @edwardianball which is not active.
Edwardian Ball in Los Angeles
The Los Angeles Ball was held for ten years, but will not be returning to Los Angeles in 2020.
Similar Events You Might Enjoy
If you enjoy The Edwardian Ball, try the San Francisco Dickens Fair which is held from late November through December. Find out more about the San Francisco Dickens Fair.