People Who Don't Wear Black Tie to Black Tie Events... Kinda Suck (And Other Viennese Ball 2018 Feedback).
I have a confession: One time, I wore a cocktail dress to a black tie wedding.
I felt like I had a reasonable excuse, though. It was a destination wedding, and I'd spent the two weeks before the wedding beach camping, surfing, scuba diving, and traveling around Mexico. No way I was doing that with an evening dress in my backpack.
To make up for it, I shaved my legs before the wedding -- something I don't normally do. But I figured, if I'm breaking one social convention, I may as well conform to another, right?
Even so, when I got to the wedding, I was astonished by the amount of thought, effort, and, yes, money, that went into the event, and I felt a little bad about my attire. I mean, surely Rent The Runway could have delivered something to Mexico City? (More on RTR in a moment.)
I thought of this wedding last weekend, when two friends returned from the 41st Stanford Viennese Ball 2018, a "prestigious formal affair held at magnificent off‑campus ballrooms," with a couple of very valid complaints:
1. There was no photo booth that took full-body shots. This is silly, considering people showed up in full-length evening gowns and tuxedos.
Could people have simply found a spot to take their own, full-body photos? Sure. But I hear the artificial overhead lighting was horribly unflattering and it just wasn't the same.
Don't get me wrong -- it's definitely fun to have closer-up face shots with little props and stuff:
But if you've asked someone to take the time to dress up in formal clothes for a formal event, you should provide a photo booth that captures the full effect of their outfits.
Especially the people who legit went all-out, making the evening more special for everyone.
2. The food was big, and not very elegant.
When I went to the Viennese Ball as an undergrad, I remember there being elegant and cute little finger foods. This year, there was a whole roast pig -- which, I suppose, was a fun change -- and "basically a continental breakfast from the hotel."
Giant cookies and pastries don't exactly scream "prestigious formal affair."
3. Most people didn't really dress for the occasion.
According to the Viennese Ball website, this annual tradition was started in 1978, by students returning from the Stanford-in-Austria program. The students were inspired by the vibrant balls that took place in Vienna. "These balls usually began with a lavish opening ceremony, featuring honored dignitaries, costumed dancers, and handsomely-clad young couples."
While some people definitely still dress up, there were also women in sundresses and other casual dresses, as well as guys in, like, khaki pants.
"It's not even about money," my source told me. "I saw one woman in a sundress I knew was over $200. It was just... sloppy."
I'm not hugely into fashion. I've even been told I have "no style" -- I'll let you decide for yourself.
But... I have to agree.
It's rude and super lame to show up to an event underdressed.
It's like, when you go to see a concert or play, you know that the artists, costume designers, directors, set designers, and performers have all worked to present a specific feel and aesthetic.
But... events are the same way. Organizers -- whether brides or committees or businesses -- want to create a certain feel or vibe. They make very intentional decisions, including what they ask their guests to wear.
For example, perhaps they are trying to capture the magic of a vibrant Viennese ball. Perhaps they want dancers to be able to lose themselves in the colors, in the way a giant skirt feels when it swirls around your legs. Perhaps they want you to be able to suspend your disbelief, similar to how you would in the theater -- except now, you aren't just the audience. You're also the actor.
You are in Vienna.
But it gets harder to lose yourself in the magic and suspend your disbelief when people are standing in the outer circle (which is supposed to be the "fast lane"), eating giant hotel pastries and wearing khaki pants.
(Read more about dance etiquette here.)
And, sure. I guess you could argue that if you're noticing what other people are wearing, you're not, like, "in flow" or whatever. I wrote in 3 Proven Ways to STOP Caring What Others Think About You and Live a Better Life that when I'm really stoked on what I'm doing, I don't notice things like what other people are wearing, or what they might be thinking about what I'm wearing...
But I also wasn't writing about attending a themed party or ball.
When I was doing my research on adult playfulness, people often asked me to compare and contrast child play with adult play. I would mention how adults have sooo much less imaginary play in their lives -- "Except sexually, like if they do role play!" everyone would always joke.
Sholdnut Sexy Nurse Costume, $9.99. Yeah -- it turns out there's tons of super cheap stripper outfits and role play lingerie on Amazon...
But I would argue that adults use imaginary play in a number of other, more subtle ways. For example, impromptu pitch competitions over ludicrous product ideas.
Singing karaoke and pretending, at least a little, that you are Miranda Lambert.
Imagining a defender while you're shooting hoops by yourself -- or kind of pretending you're Carmelo out on the court.
Or... allowing yourself to really feel like you're at a fancy, overseas ball.
This feat is much harder when you're surrounded by local undergraduates who don't know how to dress themselves. Looking sloppy, then, detracts from the event. According to one dancer I talked to, "It felt like the only thing that was missing was a basketball hoop."
In other words, when you dress like crap for a nice event, you're not just being rude to the host. You're also being rude to the other guests.
But... "rude" is becoming the new normal. According to Danny Wallace, author of the brand new book, F You Very Much: Understanding the Culture of Rudeness and What We Can Do About It, "You're not just imagining it: people are getting more and more rude -- from cutting in line, gabbing on their phones and clipping their nails on public transportation, to hurling epithets on Twitter and in real life (including a certain president who does both). And the worst part is that it's contagious!"
Our culture is becoming more crass. Young girls show tons of skin -- and even send nude selfies to random classmates, just because they asked for them. TV and movies are raunchier than ever. Everyone's watching porn, even though it destroys their physical and mental health, and students think it's okay to scream and swear at their professors.
It's also becoming more casual. There was a time when people would have been mortified to show up to an event -- or even work -- underdressed. Now, it's the opposite. People are horrified -- absolutely horrified -- that they will show up somewhere and be overdressed. How embarrassing that would be! It might make it look like... gasp! Like you care! Or even put in effort!
It's like underdressing has become a little status symbol, ever since Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg made it cool. That, combined with hashtags like #blessed and #nomakeup, encourage people to desperately cling to the image of "not caring."
But I say, "Life's too short to underdress."
How many formal events do you think you're going to go to in your life? And, presumably, if it's something that's totally optional, like the Viennese Ball, shouldn't you not mind dressing up for it?
If you're a minimalist, or if you can't afford a nice evening gown, there's always Rent the Runway, a "Netflix for Dresses, Accessories, and Clothes." They have amazing stuff that you can borrow for 4-8 days, starting at $30.
THIS COULD BE YOU!!!
Or... you could just wear that sundress you always wear.
Worst case, you'll end up having way better and more interesting photos -- like the time I wore traditional Thai clothing to a traditional Thai wedding:
But you'll probably also end up having a better experience -- whether because cognitive dissonance demands consonance (it's really important to our brains that our attitudes match our behaviors, so the mere act of putting effort into an event will make you like it more), or because it's actually fun to get together with other people, do something special and unfamiliar, and lose yourself in the magic of it all.
Oh, and PS: just because it says on the website that it's okay to dance in socks (it's better than ruining the floor), doesn't mean it's okay to dance in socks.
If you're a dude, you can literally order men's dance shoes (including Latin and jazz) for $9-26. If you're a girl, you can order ballet shoes for as low as $6, or dance shoes for as low as $8.
About the Author
Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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