15+ Facts That Prove Balls of the Past Were Not as Exciting as We Thought

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If we were born a couple of centuries ago into a noble family, the busiest time for us would be summer because it was the social season, or simply “the season.” This was the time when members of the social elite held balls, dinner parties, and charity events. Families presented their daughters as debutants, and men would look for a beneficial match. Doesn’t that all sound romantic?

However, people in the twenty-first century might find the balls of the past quite unpleasant if they knew everything about these events.

  • Balls were, perhaps, one of the most common ways of spending leisure time. And they used to be arranged not only by representatives of nobility but also by various clubs and associations, including military and fire engine companies.
  • According to some writers’ books, there was an unbearable stench at these dance parties. In particular, one of the characters of novelist Tobias Smollett mentioned all kinds of unpleasant body odors when describing a ball.
  • Usually, a special committee was responsible for arranging a ball. They procured a hall, engaged a music band, made arrangements for the supper, and sent invitations.
  • Those who wanted to attend a ball had to pay a small fee for entry. In the nineteenth century, the entrance ticket could cost 50 cents, but nowadays, you’d have to pay a tidy sum that could reach a few hundred bucks.
  • Usually, a dance party would start at 8 p.m. and last until 4 a.m. All dancers were in excellent physical shape because it wasn’t all that easy to dance for 8 hours straight.
  • Dinner at these balls was usually served quite late, around 1 a.m. This is why invitees were recommended to eat at home before the event.
  • In England, one of the most widespread dishes for dinner was a white soup made from broth, ground almonds, and cream.
  • Game, lobsters, and Parmesan ice cream were considered perfectly common dishes at balls. Often, the organizers used multi-story structures with various desserts that they decorated with flowers, gold paper, and beads, and this looked extremely impressive.
  • The color of a woman’s ball gown was determined by her age and marital status. For example, the color white was considered a prerogative of young girls who were in search of a suitable match. This is probably why Keira Knightley’s character in the movie, Anna Karenina, drew so much attention when she appeared in a snow-white gown because it implied she was a single lady this way.
  • Married ladies were allowed to wear a white dress to the ball only on the condition that it was made of moiré or silk. These fabrics signified that the lady was not dancing.
  • The hair color also played an important role in the choice of an outfit. Blondes appeared to have the most advantage in delicate hues, such as pink, salmon, or apple green. Brunettes would, on the contrary, select rich, vibrant colors.
  • At the same time, the rose color was not recommended for the ballroom. The regulars of the nineteenth-century balls knew that the beauty of this color disappeared under the gaslight, which meant a lady wearing an outfit of this color wouldn’t be able to shine on the dance floor. That’s why Meg March in the movie Little Women showed how inexperienced she was, as she donned a rose dress at the ball.
  • Usually, older family members or hired teachers would teach younger people to dance. Also, dance manuals were available from which you could learn dance movements.
  • A lady couldn’t break the promise to dance with a certain gentleman. If, for some reason, she promised the same dance to 2 gentlemen, it would be polite to decline the dance to both of them.
  • It was considered bad manners to dance more than 3 times with the same partner. By inviting the same lady over and over again, a gentleman deprived her of the opportunity to mingle with other guests. And it was normal to converse easily whilst dancing.
  • Gentlemen would avoid wearing cologne. They could only use it on their handkerchiefs, and it had to be of the highest quality.

Which of these rules would be the most difficult for you to follow? Tell us in the comments below.


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