Throwbacks seem to be the theme of the ‘20s so far. Think Y2K from the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, flared jeans from the ‘70s, global pandemics from a century ago and “Pride and Prejudice” style balls from the Regency era.
Inspired by the hit Netflix series “Bridgerton,” three Durham-based women — Catherine Crevoiserat, Mariah Thorpe and Carrie Thomas — decided to make the dreams of every swooning fan a reality. Thus, the plan to stage a real-life Regency-era ball next spring was born.
In case you missed the recent national obsession with “Bridgerton,” it features a Jane Austen-era Gossip Girl named Lady Whistledown who captures the scandals of Daphne Bridgerton, the diamond of the debutante season as she falls into a whirlwind fake romance with the emotionally unavailable Simon, Duke of Hastings.
The show’s performance has been record-breaking; an incredible 82 million households have watched the show, making it Netflix’s biggest series by far. It shot to the top, becoming the number one series in 76 countries worldwide. Clearly, it spoke to people. Produced by the Shonda Rhimes’s media company Shondaland of "Grey’s Anatomy" and "How To Get Away with Murder" fame, "Bridgerton" depicts dreamy dance scenes set in sweeping ballrooms, where women clad in lavish ballgowns twirl past with prospective suitors.
Mariah Thorpe, who runs a business for childrens' parties called JAM Kids Co., first proposed the idea of a Regency-era ball in a Facebook group for Durham-era mothers. Her experience with kids’ parties, along with Catherine Crevoiserat and Carrie Thomas’ familiarity with hosting large-scale events, created the impetus for this ambitious affair.
It turns out she reached out to the right Facebook group — who else could match the dedication and competency level of a mom? “Several women responded that they would love to be on a planning committee, and ta-da,” Crevoiserat said.
After a couple of Zoom calls, the scheme expanded to include a high tea as well as the ball. Tea will be served at the Washington Duke Inn (scheduled for June) with an actress playing Lady Whistledown. There will be plenty of time to mingle and titter about the latest scandal at a regency marketplace, where guests will have the opportunity to purchase period-appropriate vintage items and accessories such as tiaras and hand fans. The planners note that there will be a cap of thirty people for this initial event in order to give everyone more time with the actress, so make sure to book tickets quickly!
In other preparations for the main event, such as finding authentic ball gowns, shoes, or hats, look no further than the Lady Whistledown’s Ball: Durham Facebook page, where Catherine Crevoiserat shares her impressive knowledge of historically accurate fashion and footwear on a daily basis. Crevoiserat also recommends perusing the #Ladywhistledownrecommends page and exploring thrift shops for bridesmaids’ gowns, although some alterations might be necessary to maintain that historical accuracy. No expense should be spared — after all, the social season is upon us!
A venue for the ball has yet to be decided, since it would be difficult to maneuver the event around current COVID-19 guidelines. Instead, the planners have it in the works for 2022. Elaborate plans are in the works for the ball festivities once it does occur. A local ballroom dance studio will teach basic ballroom dancing lessons at the beginning — no need to stress ahead of time about any lacking ballroom dance skills. An orchestra will perform time period pieces and dances (perhaps there may even be the possibility of a pop music orchestra like the background music so cleverly inserted into the TV series).
Stations will be placed around the ballroom for those more interested in the history of the era. Guests will be able to taste ratafia (an alcoholic beverage from the period), practice the language of the fan, learn courtly manners and more. It should be noted, however, in order for the champagne and ratafia to flow freely, guests must be at least 21 years of age. In short, it will be a lavish night to enjoy the sumptuous life of 17th-century elites and feign ignorance of the travails of modern life.
After the isolating events of this past year, a ball might be exactly what the community needs. It has been a long, tiring while since many people have had the occasion (or motivation) to dance. A night to mill around with large groups of people, to dress up in an extravagant ball gown instead of ratty sweats and T-shirts, perhaps even to stir up gossipy scandals — this event epitomizes the little things that we took for granted, that have been lost during the pandemic. In fact, maybe that is the reason for all the nostalgic throwbacks that come back in style. We simply miss the ways things used to be. But as Lady Whistledown declares, we will “emerge, phoenix-like from the ashes.'' One day, we will dance again.