My first response, when invited to a Pride And Prejudice And Zombies ball for Halloween was to sigh heavily and to dream of a beautiful white Regency dress my friend Anna made me around 2002, I think. I have no idea where this dress is: I know I put it in storage three years ago, and that I took it out of storage last Northern Hemisphere summer, and that I put it in a box and shipped it to another state and…that’s where my memory ends. Where is it? Who has it? What happened to it? No idea.
So I was pretty bummed, and was all like, “Sorry Theresa, there’s no way I can sort out a suitable dress for this ball, I guess I just can’t go, which is such a shame because I love dressing up and I love dancing, too bad, so sad.” I was resigned to yet another party-free Halloween because while Kiwis insist on dressing up for every party every other weekend of the year, there’s a tiny little bit of an antipathy towards Halloween. I mean, people do dress up and go to parties, and kids even trick or treat sometimes, but there’s definitely a sense that like, it’s an American holiday, and that that’s not necessarily an unreservedly good thing. Fair enough, I guess: we aren’t, in fact, in America, and I’m happy to go with the flow in general with stuff like that. And anyway I didn’t have a dress to wear so it didn’t matter what I did on October 31.
But then it struck me as I was on the bus to work that while I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to get a Regency-appropriate dress on such short notice, there was a decent chance of my getting—wait for it—a Regency-era dude’s outfit. I happen to know a couple of very stylish gentlemen whom I was sure would be able to outfit me, and fortunately there was the good old Costume Cave—which rents costumes, brilliantly, so you don’t find yourself laying out the flash cash for a frock coat when you’re not even sure you’ll look good in a frock coat–to fill in the gaps that existed between me and a fabulously dapper evening.
I felt a bit tremulous, as any young girl does on her first night as a baby drag king, but on the whole I think it went really well. Michael lent me a top hat, I bought the over-the-knee white socks from New World, I happened to have a strangely period-appropriate pair of black flats, for shoes, and I borrowed a shirt, waistcoat, and handmade cravat from Tom. I was a little worried about the breeches, actually—I had to have rather an intense discussion with one of the Costume Cave employees (“no velvet, please”) but turns out there was a pair that just about fit me, rather to my surprise. Actually what was really to my surprise was how sort of curvy I felt in the whole outfit—the breeches did nothing to hide my hips or ass, and even the frock coat nipped in at the waist. I had had a haircut scheduled for Saturday morning anyway and I explained the situation to my hair lady and asked her if she could butch me up a bit for the occasion, but I don’t know, cascading curls are cascading curls, you know?
Fortunately for me, while I was blithering about if I looked masculine enough with my pink rose boutonniere, everyone else was fully committing to the concept of the ball. During my wasted youth I spent quite a lot of time putting on corsets and hoop skirts and fur stoles and everything—because while you were pricing hookahs and having threesomes in college, I was learning to polka—and I can tell you right now that this sort of thing does not work unless everyone commits. No irony here, my friends. Get out your quizzing glasses and your parasols and go to town.
Once we were all dressed and appropriately bloodied (those of us who didn’t have hire deposits looming over our perruques) we set out for the ball, which was, adorably, held in a church hall. We got there a bit early, which necessitated a trip to the nearest bar and many bad zombie jokes. What does a vegetarian zombie eat? GRRRAAAAAAIIIIINNNNSSS. What does a zombie have to be careful of when it’s out dancing? SPPPPRRRRAAAAAINNNS. Where does a zombie prefer to go bowling? Over at the LAAAAAAAAANNESSS. And so forth.
This was around the time that I started getting into my role and sniffing audibly that various people were not handsome enough to tempt me.
Even though, of course, everyone looked fantastic, regardless of my snobbish attitude.
Both the alive and the undead.
In no mood to give consequence, clearly. (Also, that crazy collar I was wearing, up around my chin? Was not made, um, of natural fibers, and so speaking of consequences, an unintended one was where I ended up getting kind of a rash where it rubbed against my neck all night. This being a dude thing isn’t all roses and higher pay for equal work, it would seem).
The people who ran this event were just gorgeous, and were very excited when ten of us rocked up in full attire. By the end of the night we were about thirty or thirty-five all together, totally into it, running around with our dance cards and trying to sort out whether we were supposed to be doing a waltz or a polka or Sir Roger de Coverley. It reminded me very strongly of the first Mudd Occasional Balls I went to in university, which were held in, like the college dining hall with the chairs and tables pushed back, all twelve people who showed up all in their formals very sincere about the whole thing. It was so funny to me to think all the time I spent learning the Congress of Vienna Waltz (which, sadly, we didn’t dance over the weekend) has sort of actually come in handy, socially speaking, fifteen years later in a frock coat.
I actually did get to (regretfully) decline an invitation to dance because my dance card? Was FULL. I danced with both ladies and other gentlemen—when I was with a lady I lead (again, all that experience backleading in swing dance class really came in handy!) and when I was with a dude I mostly let him lead. Mostly.
Everyone danced and drank and ate cake and danced around some more, expressing some surprise at how much of a cardio workout some of those dances can be. I had to take some egotism breaks to adjust my cravat to its most fulsome and tilt my top hat to its exactly most rakish angle.
And also I had to sneak off to the billiards room for cigar and port with the other lads.
We went to town, afterwards, and the bar we went to even had a costume contest, but I was pretty tuckered out after a long night of quadrilles and brain-eating (Why does a zombie use bleach in its laundry? To get rid of STTTAAAAIIIIIIIIINNNSSS), so it was as much as I could do to straighten my waistcoat and universally acknowledge the truth of a very good Halloween indeed.