I just pulled 88 hairpins, 5 hair extensions, a half dozen paper flowers, and two large black feathers from my hair. The only thing that could have made my giant hair any better would have been to build storage compartments into it, or add nesting ferrets to the top.
I am back from the Edwardian Ball, exhausted, slightly drunk, and glad to be free of my corset. The hair on the other hand, I already miss. The living room is a disaster of petticoats that I will have to deal with in the morning. But for now, I consider the evening a success.
Was it only this morning that I packed up my gown and unmentionables, and headed for the Wak Shack Salon, with coffee and slightly damp, freshly dyed hair extensions in hand? Kim Mejia, stylist extraordinaire, produced two large bags of steam rollers and an assistant and got to work.
For those who have not had the pleasure, it is harder than you might think to dye hair that is not attached to a head. Also, there is pretty much nothing more unsettling to see hanging in the shower in the morning when you forget it was there.
There were moments of doubt halfway through the hair appointment - for example, when I looked up into the large, well-lit mirror and saw myself with post-curler Sideshow Bob hair, and thought, "maybe this isn't going to work, after all."
But the unruly masses were coaxed upwards and outwards into large, ferret-hiding curls and pinned in place. From the depths of her toolbox, Kim produced dramatic black feathers salvaged from a vintage hat. The final effect was a slightly crazed Gibson Girl bouffant of truly impressive proportions.
With hair large and in charge, I headed over to my friend’s house to do last minute sewing before getting dressed. A quick stop at the drugstore for more bobby pins was improved by the fact that while everyone stared at my hair, no one was willing to ask. I started to consider the merits of keeping my hair like this all the time.
At the house, we got caffeinated while I stitched the straps and collar of my friend's big purple dress, and added some slap-dash embroidered Gorey-style bats to my basic black. Six sheets of lint-roller were employed to remove the kitten hair from my gown.
As the hour drew near, we started the many layered dressing process of yesteryear: unmentionables, stockings, and shoes on BEFORE the corset (lest you not be able to reach your shoes), then into the long-line Edwardian corset, flounced petticoat, and the deluxe lacy bum-pads I made specially for the evening (adding to the overall S-curve silhouette by giving you a great big caboose). Getting into the gown proved to be an unexpected challenge, as the enormous hair made it harder to lower the dress over my head, but with three of us on the task we got it done. Jewelry in place, I jammed some red paper roses into my coiffure, slammed some Red Bull and made for the door.
By the time we pulled up outside the Regency Center the line of bustled, corseted, and top-hatted revelers was already reaching around the block. Because we were going to help open the dance floor with the Vima Dance Studio instructors, we got to sneak in through the stage door before the main doors opened to the crowd outside.
Inside, the ballroom was softly lit by glimmering chandeliers, and a waltz was already playing as a few couples whirled around the dance floor, a screen onstage showing black and white film snippets. Along one side of the ballroom, the first guests looked over a museum of curiosities (a two-headed cat skeleton, assorted creative taxidermy, jars of unidentifiable things), and on the opposite side, two guys from Kinetic Steam Works wrenched on a steam engine next to a little tea room tucked into the corner.
We were not there long before a tall dark stranger asked me to dance. As she spun me around the dance floor, she advised me, "You just can't wait. If you don't get out and dance now, you'll never get a chance when it gets crowded." I took her advice, and my boyfriend and I took our first tour of the dance floor without crashing into anyone else or tripping over my own dress, which absolutely made the dance lessons worth it.
In search of a place to stash my evening bag, we left the ballroom through the crowded rotunda, where a violinist on stilts entertained as couples posed for pictured under a ferocious fake-fur grizzly bear. Downstairs, the Sutter Room had been transformed into a croquet garden and a night market of oddities and Edwardian finery. Under most circumstances it is hard to find jut the right top hat, corset, or floor-sweeping silk skirts, but here, you could comparison shop. The music, the crowd, and the array of shiny things for sale was overwhelming. As a friend put it, "It's so much good stuff all together, it's hard to see each thing."
We browsed our way through the crowded aisles to the front of the room where my friend Amber Clisura of Doedel Designs was selling her hand-made stripey gloves next to the Dark Garden live models. She took one look at my hair, and said "Kim, right?" Her reputation precedes her.
On the croquet pitch, a girl in striped stockings and an Alice-worthy dress was engaged in an animated argument with a top-hatted man with darkened eye sockets and an impressive handlebar moustache. It looked as though it might end badly.
We were waylaid by Paul's Hat Works booth on our way upstairs. I had not been able to make it by their shop in the Richmond before the ball, but I will definitely be stopping by later. They've been in business since 1918, and if the sampling at the ball is any indication, they know their hats.
Back upstairs in the parlor, there was a snaking line for the portrait booth and another for the bar. The place was positively packed. We lined up and sat for pictures behind a large gilded frame, then took advantage of backstage passes to get away from the masses for a minute.
From the side of the stage we could see an aerialist twisting and turning on a length of red silk, while in the wings other performers stretched and warmed up. In the dressing rooms (where during my tour of the building, I had been told a spectral gentleman was known to loiter) dancers and circus performers competed for mirror space. Like back stages everywhere, it smelled like hairspray and dust. I watched and tried to stay out of the way while corsets were tightened and stage makeup applied and the Dark Garden models got dolled up in bustled and ruffled outfits for their fashion show, everyone busy and excited.
It seemed that the shows were running a bit late, and performers queued up at the edge of the stage trying to figure out who was on when. With no way to talk over the din of music, they employed advanced games of charades with much pointing and gesticulating and at least one enthusiastic hip-thrust that I saw.
From the balcony above the dance floor we could see the crowd at its height, shoulder to shoulder filling the room. Rosin Coven took over the music, followed by a DJ set by Miz Margo. My early dance partner was right – there would be no more room to waltz after that first set. Midnight came and went, and we grabbed seats over the stage where we could watch the Vima Vice Squad strut their stuff, and see the antics of Dark Garden and Fou Fou Ha! up close.
We left the ball in the drizzly early morning hours with tired feet and ringing ears, and that end-of-the-night sadness that it is all over. It is always a thrill to see our city when it is dressed to kill, and the Edwardian Ball is the perfect excuse to pull out the stops. I'm already thinking about next year.