How to Dress for a Ball (Options)

When it comes to dressing for a Regency Ball, you have some options.  You can:

1) Make your own clothing,
2) Rent a dress / gown / suit (frock coat, etc.) / tuxedo / kilt / historic military attire,
3) Get someone to make something for you, or
4) Repurpose clothing (the MacGyver option).

Making your own clothing:

If you have basic to intermediate sewing skills, you can purchase patterns online and make your own custom ensemble. (See resources page.) Women’s Regency era clothing is relatively simple as far as sewing goes, and certain elements of Gentlemen’s clothing are more complex (frock coat).  Depending on the amount of time, resources, and skills you have available to you, you may want to do a combination of building and outsourcing.

Pros of Making your own Clothing:
You will have a custom made garment that is exactly as you want it and is yours to keep.  This is helpful if you plan to attend future events.
It has the potential to be the least expensive option, as you will only need to get patterns and materials. (ex. 5 metres of fabric plus trim for a lady’s round gown)
You can build your outfit on your own time and you have complete control over the outcome.

Cons of Making your own Clothing:
It is time consuming.
It requires a certain degree of pre-existing skill.


In Winnipeg, there are a few options for renting your Regency ensemble.
Harlequin Costume has an extensive costuming department, tuxedo rental department, kilt rentals, as well as dance shoes, and accessories.  There are various other places that rent tail coats and kilts.   Reserve early!

Pros of Renting:
The garments will be well-made, and may be tailored to fit you better.
If wearing Regency or Military Dress, you can be sure of being closer to historical accuracy.
You don’t have to worry about storing the items after the event is over.
If you plan to attend numerous functions, you can wear something different every time.
Renting is less expensive than purchasing a custom made outfit.
No need to sew anything.
Takes little time to acquire your ensemble.

Cons of Renting:
Can be pricy if you plan on attending numerous events, as the cost can add up.
You may have to “make do” with what stock is available in your size.

Getting someone to make something for you (Commissioning):

It’s time to call Aunt Helen or your very crafty friend Barb / Bob to see if they are able to build you what you require from a pattern (see Resources page).
You may consider going online to purchase items, as many people are building Regency dresses and frock coats, as well as historical military dress for a fee.
You will still need to source accessories, headwear, and footwear.

Pros of Commissioning:
If you have access to a person who sews, they can make you a custom outfit that will fit you well, and then it’s yours to keep.
No sewing skills required on your part.
You will be able to choose exactly what you want from the fabric to the trim.

Cons of Commissioning:
Can range from being a moderate expense (~$140) to being very expensive (~$600), depending on the item.
If you are ordering online, there is no guaranteeing the quality or fit of the garment(s), nor the arrival time of the order.

Repurposing other garments:

You know that old bridesmaid dress in your closet.  It may actually be useful!  You can tackle the “MacGyver” option if you feel creative, or you may also be able to enlist your crafty friend to help you repurpose a vintage or pre-existing garment.  There are many empire waisted dresses available (or trousers, trench coats, and tail coats) and, with some ingenuity, they can be transformed into a reasonable facsimile of a Regency outfit.

Pros of the “MacGyver” method:
It can be a lot of fun to hunt for items and them get creative with them.
It can be very inexpensive to use found items or used clothing at VV.
Recycling is a responsible use of resources!

Cons of the “MacGyver” method:
Repurposing a garment can be fun, but it can also be very frustrating, as it can sometimes take more work to change something than to make something new.
It may be more difficult to realize your vision.


Now that you’ve examined your options, please visit the RESOURCES PAGE to take your next steps to building your Regency Wardrobe.