The Edwardian ball: a San Francisco Cinderella story

I had dreamed of going to Edwardian Ball for years. Yearned for the golden ball gowns and  the little toupées. For months before the ball this year, I read Brokeassstuart’s updates of the corset making class in preparation, interviews with performers and conversations with the artists who were going.

The ball was the talk of the town — two evenings of magic using the Regency Ballroom as it was originally intended, a conglomeration of all of the Hoop dresses and Cinderella wigs in a 50 mile radius.

The Edwardian Ball, an annual San Francisco tradition for the last 21 years has become part of the fabric of the city, an annual gathering of the who’s who of the city.

As a student I knew that my night of the ball would be spent writing an essay and maybe cleaning my co-op’s toilet instead of making magic at the ball. Until one fateful afternoon, when KALX Publicity granted me a golden ticket to join the ball too.

Upon hearing this glorious news, Kate, my reviewing partner, and I rushed to the thrift stores to find the perfect gown. At community thrift in the Mission we found a gold sequined ball gown that had seen finer days. They spent the last nights leading up to the ball sewing golden beads back on, until it was ready for the show.

Walking to the Regency Ballroom was like walking to the 1776 constitutional convention with a satanic twist — white powdered wigs with steampunk glasses.

We shout our names over the sound of a steam engine outside (which we later learn is powering a railroad inside). And enter the magical space of the Edwardian Ball.

On the first floor a jazz quartet is playing while artisans show off their leather work, harnesses and homemade jackets in a bazaar. A man walks around with a large board in which people can bet on wind-up toy races. Laughter bounces off the walls and a man in a trenchcoat offers Kate little birds to wear in her hair (that may have been made with real feathers!?), but everything is more expensive than what we can afford.

We wander up the stairs that have been adorned by the drawings of a French artist and come to the ballroom itself. Two people stand atop 10 foot pedestals, frozen in time. Three people pump the handle of a handcar and pass us on the little railroad that has been built in the middle of the room. An audience of all sorts dances to the beat of a New Orleans big band whose singer wears a bright red dress and a feather boa.

In a corner, we find cookies and tea and watch the chaos unfold around us. On the stage people dressed as giraffes and cows emerge and start ephemerally dancing around behind the band, and a burlesque performer comes next. We walk up to the balcony — avoiding stepping on the wide dresses or running into the drunken revealers.

From the balcony we look down upon a fantasy gal created for the debuting of the new line of corsages applauding enthusiastically when MotherPrincesss defeats the evil from their kingdom. We sip on absinthe and ascend another floor. Where the sounds of EDM bounce off the wooden walls of what one man tells me is an old knights’ Templar meeting room, a story I choose to believe.

This floor is filled with art made of bone, and a man with no hair but jet black eyebrows carries around a skull asking me to look into its eyes. A painter sits in a picture frame painting a live model. Tarot cards are shuffled, life fortunes read. We find small cushions and stumble into a place of part wake and part sleep, soaking in the space (and avoiding eye contact with the fifty something year olds making out next to us) until the clock strikes two, our carriage turns into a pumpkin and we resume our lives as Berkeley students.

The Edwardian Ball is a magical world, of which words can’t truly capture. Find yourself there next year and see what we mean.