Balls in Alaska are quite a different beast from what you know in the Lower 48s or in mid-latitudes in general. The cold weather and evening attire pose a challenge. On top, when you are in midlife it’s not a given that last year’s gown will do the trick. Read what it takes an Alaskan women to dress for a ball. See the beautiful garments that exist in their closets.
- A Ball Means Dressing Up
- Why Women in Menopause Should Check the Fit of Their Gown
- What I Wore at the Ball
- Indoors – Another Side of the State of the Great Outdoors
- Alaskan Dancers Take Long Rides for a Ball
- Gorgeous robes of the entertainment crew
- Examples of Fairbanks formal style
Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post.
A Ball Means Dressing Up
My husband surprised me with an invitation to the 40 Below Ball. He was lucky to get some tickets last minute. Thus, I didn’t have time to browse the thrift stores or online for a gown. Well, there is always shopping the closet. Even though doing some insomniac online shopping for the perfect look is some pre-fun of the upcoming event.
Always be aware of the type of ball. What to wear to a military ball differs from what to wear to a white tie, black tie, formal or semi-formal ball.
This ball was organized by the Fairbanks Ballroom Dancing Club and had turned from a Black Tie dress code event in the zero years to a Fairbanks Formal dress code. Thus, any of my date-night dance dresses would have met the dress code just fine. But I wanted to take this great opportunity of being able to dress up like Cinderella.
Why Women in Menopause Should Check the Fit of Their Gown
Ball attire is among those clothing items that have a long tenure in our closets. One wears them only now and then. While in our 20s and 30s this fact wasn’t a problem, when we had kept our weight constant, it would fit as great as the last time.
However, in menopause, keeping the same weight is no guarantee that a robe that was a perfect fit last year, still will fit this year. Somehow the meat/fat justs shifts around and yep fails to resist gravity. 🙁 It turns south. To be in control of your life, not menopause, you would need a lot of shapewear to turn it north – read up. While I love shapewear, it’s no great for dancing the night away.
Thus, I tried my old gowns on in the morning before the event to know which one fits best. Well, also to have time for an alteration of a high-low hem if needed, i.e. when none of them was still looking great right away.
This menopausal body changes are also the reason why you always should try everything on before taking pieces from last year back from storage into your closet during your seasonal closet overhaul.
What I Wore at the Ball
In Fairbanks, heating is very expensive because it’s so cold outside. Thus, rooms that are not used and garages often only get heated to 40F (5oC) to save money and protect the environment. Therefore, I packed a cape to stay warm between dances, just in case the Gold Room is chilly.
Even with a fake fur coat just sitting in the car with sandals and a chiffon gown is a recipe to catch a cold and having to pay a medical bill.
It does not need 40 below, but just temperatures in the negative digits (colder than -18oC) to make attending a ball already a challenge. Oh, no it is not the drive to the ball. Then your car just came out of the garage and is warm inside. It is the drive home. Your body is heated and may be sweaty from dancing, and the car stood 4 hours or so outside and adapted to whatever the temperature is outside.
Being sweaty after a night of dancing requires a warm coat. Of course, I first went to the restroom to towel myself dry. Freezing sweat is a recipe at least for a cold, but can even lead to hypothermia. Recall the car is damned cold standing outside at 10F (-12.3oC) for a couple of hours.
For an Alaskan that’s considered warm in January. Thus, I wore my oyster color long leather coat with faux fur trim. You can see it hanging on the coat rack in the background in the photo below. If it had been colder like 0F (-18oC) a faux fur coat would be a no-brainer. At 40 below, a thick down coat. A shearling would spread hair all over your attire.
This sleek dress in the photo above is my velvet gown that I had worn at the Governor’s Inaugural Ball in 2015 and 2003. In 2003, I had styled the gown with a burgundy necklace and bracelet and wore a satin belt with a Swarovski crystal buckle. In 2015, I opted for an edgy look with the studded belt. This time I styled the gown with an eastern vibe regarding the accessories for a different look. I also swapped the bolero jacket for a caplet for an on-trend look
Boots get checked in at the coat clerk’s
The women put their sandals or dance shoes on and check the tote and boots with the coat at the coat clerk’s. After the ball, women pull on the leggings or jeans under the gown in the restroom, while the guys go starting and idling the car for about 5-10 minutes. The women wait inside until their guy drives their car in front of the door. They hop in and feel cold until the car warms up. Those who also bring a blanket, wrap themselves in the blanket and their guy helps them to get into the car. Have you ever tried to climb a SUV or truck when being wrapped in a blanket? <3
Indoors – Another Side of the State of the Great Outdoors
Alaska is not just the great outdoors, tough men and women mushing dogs thru a blizzard of snow, and mining for gold. It is not all about subsidence lifestyle with hunting, trapping and fishing. And it is not just hiking, snow-shoeing, skiing, and snow machining for fun. A regular event is the so-called “40 Below Ball” organized by the Fairbanks Ballroom Dance Club.
They changed the name of the ball from “Moonshine Ball” to “40 Below Ball”, because it was below -20F (-29.8oC) so often when they held their winter ball. However, ever since the renaming, the night of the ball was never 40 below zero. Such low temperatures are a logistic problem from a dressing point of view for the ladies. This year’s 40 Below Ball missed 40 below zero by about 10 days. 🙂
How to Stay Warm in a Ballgown on the Way Home in Winter
On the way home, I wore my jeggings and wool socks in my boots and a sweater over the gown under my coat. What do you do when you attend a ball at freezing temperatures? Let me know by email, I am curious.
Alaskan Dancers Take Long Rides for a Ball
Alaska is a state of the size of Europe from the Ural to Portugal. However, its population is about 736,732 (Census 2014). This means there are not that many opportunities to go to a ball. In many cities, there won’t be a ball at all due to the low population. Consequently, Alaskan dancers drive long distances to attend a ball.
There was a group of young people who drove all the way up to Fairbanks from Anchorage. The driving distance between Anchorage and Fairbanks is 359 miles (~578 km). In winter, it takes about 10 to 12 h depending on the snow and road conditions. At the Governor’s Inaugural Ball two years ago, there were even attendees who had flown in from the North Slope as far away as Barrow (502 miles, 805 km).
A special highlight of the ball are the performances of the the Lathrop High School Ballroom Dance Team. Do I have to mention that they are not just great dancers, but also have an entire storage room full of beautiful gowns. I showed you just their dance gowns suitable for waltz some time ago.
What the Other Ladies Wore
The usual tourist walking thru Fairbanks in summer or even during the aurora season has no idea what treasures are in the Fairbanks closets when it comes to formal or semi-formal attire. Alaska street style seems to be so down to earth and all about staying warm. O.K., in the Interior in summer, it is also about staying cool. The highest air temperature recorded in the Interior was 100F (37.8oC) in Fort Yukon on June 27, 1915.
The photos in this post are showing some of my favorite dresses. The Millennia were among the best dressed. There were hardly any generation X dancers, probably because it’s hard to get a child sitter on the first warm weekend after the cold snap 😉 . There were also some very stylish baby boomers and war generation fashionistas.
Like these evening outfits? Then why not pinning them to your Pinterest board?
Examples of Fairbanks Formal Style
Here some more casual examples of typical Fairbanks Formal Style.
The Buffet and Drinks
The buffet is quite different from those I have seen at balls in Europe. It had various Alaska food items like the reindeer sausages, crab mushrooms and hummus mixed with smoked salmon. I love eating salmon, and I love eating humus, but I am not thrilled about mixing them. I am more an on the side gal like Sally in the movie “You’ve got mail.”
Typically, in Alaska, you get water, tea and coffee for free at events like a ball for the designated drivers. However, this time there was just water. May be one could have gotten free coffee or tea, but one would have had to ask. I didn’t check as I was fine with water. There was also a no-host bar with all kinds of Alaska beers, some national and international brews as well as various different wines. However, as usual, no champagne. Why is that? I have never been at a ball in Europe where there wasn’t champagne the It drink.
Photos of me: G. Kramm
Other photos: N. Mölders
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