I first started making historically-inspired clothing in university, mostly as costuming for various live-action roleplaying games (if you’re pretending to be a 500-year-old vampire, part of the fun is dressing the part!). That tapered off over the years, largely due to a lack of opportunities to wear most of these creations. Victorian ballgowns may be stunning, but they’re a bit much for a trip to the grocery store. Instead I turned my sewing time towards Japanese lolita fashion, which draws heavily from Rococo and Victorian styles but in a more wearable, modern manner.

Attending a large-scale historical costuming event has been a bucket list item for me for many years, both for the excuse to make a truly elaborate gown and the opportunity to step back in time for just a moment. The annual Fête Galantes event at Versailles was of particular interest, since it focuses on recreating many aspects of 18th court life, from private opera concerts and formalized dances to parlour games and period music. It’s one of the few times each year that wearing historical garb to the palace is permitted; the evening begins at 7 pm and ends at midnight with period-authentic fireworks. Several of my friends, including Aimee and Jo (OctaveKitten), attended last year and had nothing but praise for the event.

I was still hesitant when my friend Queenie, who recently moved back to Paris, proposed a group outing to the 2020 event, however. Attending is not an inexpensive proposition, between the clothes, the ticket and the travel from North America to Europe. Was it really worthwhile for a single night of fantasy? For all the historical aspects, any modern recreation event is still a work of illusion: the pomp and prettiness without all the ugly underpinnings of that era’s reality.

(on a tangential note, this is why the Ragged Victorians are one of my favorite historical recreation groups, with their focus on lower-class life in 1850s England.)

All that said, the chance to indulge in a night of reverie with a few dear friends, and build the ballgown of my dreams was too great a temptation. Our tickets are bought, our Versailles hotel booked, and our outfit foundations are being laid (literally – 18th century dress has complex underpinnings which we’ve already started either buying or making!).

I’ll be doing my best to document my outfit-in-progress on this site, using the tag “fetes-galantes“. My goal is to have the necessaries like the hoop skirt, stays (an 18thC version of a corset) and chemise done by the end of January, giving me 4-5 months to slowly complete my gown and design a suitable hairstyle to match (the event itself takes place on June 1st). It’s been a while since I tackled such a large and complicated sewing project, so please wish me bonne chance!

Dancers bow in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles during Fetes Galantes 2017.
Dancers bow in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles during Fetes Galantes 2017.