Fancy Dress Balls: All Dressed Up and Somewhere to Go

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Photograph
Mrs. Wheeler as the "Marquise de Vaudreuil," costumed for Chateau de Ramezay Ball, Montreal, QC, 1898
Wm. Notman & Son
1898, 19th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
17 x 12 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
II-123065
© McCord Museum
Description
Keywords:  female (19035) , Photograph (77678) , portrait (53878)
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Keys to History

Harriet Wheeler attended the ball as the "Marquise de Vaudreuil." It was assumed that guests in historical costume had carried out research on the individual portrayed and on styles of the period to achieve historical accuracy. The advice on fancy dress and the ball organizers implied that the quest for accuracy was virtually a moral obligation, so the process of selecting an historical costume was generally assumed to be educational and edifying.

The skirt of Mrs. Wheeler's supposedly 18th-century costume was held out with a circular hoop typical of the 1860s, and not the panniers that would have been more in keeping with the period. Nonetheless, the press praised her for wearing a "perfectly correct Pompadour costume." The 19th-century vision of historical correctness was always blurred with notions of attractiveness and good taste.

References
Montreal Star, 19 January 1898.

Cynthia Cooper and Linda Welters, "Brilliant and Instructive Spectacles: Canada's Fancy Dress Balls, 1976-1898," Dress 22 (1995): 15.

  • What

    Mrs. Harriet Wheeler wore a pink satin hoop skirt trimmed with lace flounces and an overdress of pink and white flowered silk. Her patches-small beauty spots on the face-and powdered hair were frequently a part of 18th-century costumes.

  • Where

    Mrs. Wheeler posed in the Notman studio in front of a backdrop used for many of the portraits taken following this ball.

  • When

    The silhouette worn by Mrs. Wheeler is far more like that of 1860 than that of the previous century.

  • Who

    Mrs. Wheeler was well-known for her charity work, including raising funds for the Ladies' Benevolent Institution and founding the Montreal Society of Decorative Art.