A ball at the palace (again)

028Last year, we went to the IAEA Ball, at the Hofburg palace.  It was phenomenally cool, and the setting was gorgeous and fabulous and opulent.  On the other hand, I had a terrible time finding a dress, I wasn’t able to get my hair to behave, and I ripped my already frustrating dress in the first five minutes after we arrived.  And although it might sound ridiculous to let anything get in the way of enjoying a ball at the palace, all of that really dampened my spirits about the evening and the experience (although I did, ultimately, end up having a pretty good time).

What a difference a year makes!  Yesterday, we went to the IAEA Ball again, and this year, we had a blast.  After the frustration of dress shopping from last year, I planned ahead and bought a dress online from the US.  (I figured, correctly, that even buying a dress over the computer and not getting to see it or try it on before I purchased it would be LESS of a hassle than finding a dress here.)  It was a good choice.  I got a great dress for a fraction of what it would have cost here and got it successfully altered.  Just being able to look forward to having an appropriate, flattering dress to wear changed my entire outlook on the evening.  Instead of being discouraged and deflated, I was excited and enthusiastic.  I was able to do my hair (on the first try!) in a new, functional style that I really loved, and did my makeup in just a few minutes so that I ended up feeling pretty and put together.  And then, the kids were happy and relaxed to be staying with Jo and watching a movie while we went out.  We started our evening a little later this year, so we were home to do dinner and bath with the kids before we went out.  When we were all together and ready to leave, everyone was happy.  It was a great way to start the evening!

030We arrived at the palace for the ball, and hit our first (and only) real snag of the evening.  Dan had to switch out his ornately tied tie for a bow tie (which, apparently, is part of the required dress for the palace) which he had to buy on site.  We chalked it up to getting an extra souvenir and got on with enjoying our evening.

058We did a little dancing on a floor that was every bit as crowded and insane as last year, got our picture taken, walked around to survey the palace in all of its splendor (the chandeliers are particularly remarkable) and chatted with some friends and coworkers of Dan’s.  We made it back to the main ballroom just in time for the quadrille — a large, complex, semi-organized group dance that one of Dan’s collegues aptly explained this way: “There are long lines of too many people.  It’s like square dancing.  They give instruction, although not quite enough, and then the music keeps getting faster.”  Which is, in fact, exactly what it’s like.  It was tremendous fun to watch, but it went on for quite a while and, given the lack of appropriate seating in the main ballroom, I eventually just 043gave in and sat down on the marble steps to watch.  There was something fantastically inappropriate, and yet perfectly indulgent about sitting on the floor, in a ball gown, in a palace, listening to an exquisite orchestra frantically playing manic quadrille music for several hundred partially intoxicated revellers who had no hope of keeping up.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself (and I started a trend — I was the first to sit on the steps in my finery, but many others quickly followed)

051After that, the crowds thinned out somewhat, and Dan and I got to do some dancing ourselves.  We danced until it was late, we were tired, and my feet wouldn’t take any more.  We came home to sweet kids who had been asleep for hours and a happy (if tired) babysitter.  We had a great, magical evening.  It was everything that a ball at the palace ought to be.

Preparing for the ball (again)

Getting ready to attend the IAEA ball last year was not fun.  I was shocked by the prices of the dresses, seriously disappointed by the selection in my size and discouraged by the terrible customer service in the shops.  After several weeks of frustration and failure, I decided to have a dress made . . . which ended up being more expensive and less satisfying than the other options would have been.  My visions of feeling like an elegant princess, all fancied up for the ball, dissolved into a reality of having to convince myself that I would have a wonderful time regardless of what I was wearing.  I did ultimately enjoy myself, but having to settle in terms of attire certainly detracted from the experience.

This year, I was better informed and more prepared.  To start, I ordered a dress online from the US.  When it arrived, which took longer than I expected,  I was pleased — it fit relatively well and is at least as nice as the dresses I saw in most of the shops here (for 1/3 the price).  I was still a bit daunted by the process of having the dress altered, though, particularly because of last year’s debacle.  Dan asked around at work, but we didn’t come up with any resounding recommendations that were likely to have the dress finished in time for next weekend’s ball.  One friend had some success at a department store, but it was far away, so I borrowed that idea and stopped by a department store (Peek & Cloppenburg on Karntnerstrasse) in the center of Vienna to ask if they would do the necessary alterations.

Success!  They do alterations, even of clothes bought elsewhere, and they can have it done by Friday.  I took it in on Saturday, and she seemed to know what she was doing (and spoke a little English, too).  I don’t know yet how it will turn out, but I’m miles ahead of where I was this time last year.  I’m feeling much more hopeful about my chances for a magical evening this time around.

Dress saga: the final chapter

I wore my new, custom made, blue dress to the ball last Saturday.  It was suitable and appropriate, but not quite right for me.  It was left much too big, and even after 3 fittings, with drawings, demonstrations and much pinning of the dress, the dressmaker wasn’t able to create what we had agreed on.  (Although I admit it improved considerably between the first fitting, where it was awful, and when I actually wore it.)  I just didn’t feel good in it, and given the number of opportunities the dressmaker had to fix it, plus the amount of money I spent on it (a lot) I was pretty unhappy with the final result.

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I thought about it over the weekend, and decided that my best bet (for my sanity, if not for my bank balance) in dealing with all of my current dress drama was just to go out and buy another dress.  That way, if the first shop surprises me and makes the dress like I wanted it, I’ll end up with the good problem of having two nice things to choose between, rather than having to scramble at the true last minute if it doesn’t work out well.  It took me a while to make up my mind about what to get — I didn’t want to go out and get something similar to what I’m having made:  then I could, potentially, end up with two dresses, neither of which I like very much.  This would pretty much defeat the purpose of having a “plan B dress”.

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Adventures, and failures, in dress making

Earlier this evening, I had my first (of two) fittings for the dress I’m having made for the ball.  It’s a pretty color.  The skirt is quite full, so I shouldn’t have any trouble dancing comfortably.  My arms will be covered.  I’m sure it will fit me quite well.  I am confident that it is of a style appropriate to attending a ball.

Those are the only nice things I have to say about it.

It seems that nearly everything, from the silhouette of the dress to the length of the arms to the cut of the back — even the time of the appointment — was miscommunicated in the great game of multi-language telephone played between myself, the shop clerk and the seamstress.  The shop assistant kept saying things like, “I thought she was going to . . . ” and I kept saying, “Me too”.  I think that I understood the shop assistant just fine — it seems that most of the breakdown of communication was between her and the seamstress, who did not, it seems, understand what I was going for.  In many ways, the dress is the complete opposite of what I asked for, and I think several of my “not”s must have been lost in translation (as in, “I would NOT like it to have an empire waist, and I would NOT like there to be a horizontal seam across the middle of the dress”).

Sigh.  I’m frustrated, disappointed, and I feel pretty dumb.  I’ve just invested a great deal of money in a dress that will be much less flattering than several of the less expensive options I tried on at the dress shops.  It’s hard, because I don’t feel good about my current weight, or how I look these days, so putting on a dress that I was hoping would be lovely, and is instead frumpy and unflattering, is no fun.  It dims my enthusiasm about going to the ball, which, although understandable, is really kind of silly.  Yes, it would be great to have a gorgeous dress and feel beautiful, but I’m going to a *ball* at the *palace*, and what I’m wearing need not be the focus of the evening.  I’m trying to keep myself focused on the wonderful time we’re going to have, and on being grateful for the fact that I even have this problem to worry about in the first place.

Both the seamstress and the shop assistant seemed confident that they’ll be able to rectify my issues at the next fitting.  I am not holding my breath.  But maybe they will pull off a miracle.  Maybe.  If not, my options are to reject the dress (I have no idea how that would go over in Vienna, but I may try it anyway, although I do accept partial responsibility for the failure of communication — I’m the one in a German speaking country without the ability to speak the language) but then I’d have to scurry around to try and find something else that will work (and which would probably need to be altered), or I can accept it in whatever state it’s in at the next fitting next week and make the most of it.

At this point, perhaps I’ve now mentally set the bar so low that when I see it again next week, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.  I doubt it, but I’ll hope.

Making a dress, a comedy in three languages

I have 17 days until the ball, and, as yet, no fairy godmother has surfaced to wave a wand and create a gown made just for me (although, that might be one of those things that you have to wait until the actual last minute, not almost the last minute, and your bird-made gown might first have to be destroyed by your evil step-sisters, of which I have none, so I may never know).  I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands (not literally) and have a dress made.

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