Living in Vienna has brought out the wannabe-princess in me. Though difficult as uncovering that segment of myself may be, I can’t help but daydream about life as a Habsburg each time I stroll past the grand Hofburg Palace or walk the corridors of Schönbrunn. I wonder what it would be like to work my way into a giant, unbreathable dress and ride around in a carriage and attend a ball that’s the talk of the town. Then I figure, the dress would be just as comfortable as it looks, so not missing anything there, the horse carriages in Vienna smell to high heaven, so definitely not missing out on that mode of transportation, and a ball? Balls are doable; in fact Vienna has its own”ball season“, hosting a number of balls from January through February. The opportunity is here, but balls cost money, which is why I assumed I’d never attend one.
Then something miraculous happened: I WON TICKETS.
Back in December, the amazing women behind the Women of Vienna community organized a Jingle Bazaar in order to raise awareness and money for Frauenhäuser Wien. Those who donated could enter a raffle and choose among a variety of prizes to win. I put my name in for Vienna’s 95th annual Blumenball (Flower Ball), but didn’t think for a second I’d win. A couple of hours later, my good friend sent me a YOU WON message, and I promptly screamed and fell on the floor with excitement which my husband much to my embarrassment caught on camera. But no matter. We were going to a BALL.
As the high of winning stabled and the reality of what that meant began to sink in, I realized I didn’t have a single clue what to do or expect. I searched around for others’ personal experiences but could only seem to find official tourism explanations of a typical Viennese ball. Those were okay, but I wanted a real person to tell me Don’t do this! Expect such-and-such! DEFINITELY AVOID THAT.
So if you’re going to a ball this season, or hope to in future seasons, or you’re hopeful you’ll win tickets so you don’t have to buy tickets, or you don’t want to go at all but are fine to live vicariously through my experience, this is for you. Please note that I have now been to a total of ONE ball, so I can only write what I know about this particular ball. But regardless, I hope my description and suggestions can be useful.
I won mine so… FREE!
But seriously, the only reason we went was because the tickets were free. The ticket for a Viennese ball is not cheap my friends, and likely vary in cost from ball to ball, but you can snag a discount if you’re under the age of 26 (which disqualifies me *sniff*). Tickets are more expensive if you reserve a seat, less so if you’re okay to stand and meander for the night. The tickets we won came without a reservation.
What to Wear
Women are to wear a ball gown or evening dress; a dress that nearly brushes the floor, basically. I saw a few women with shorter dresses, but that seemed to be a no-no by ball standards. Embrace your inner Disney princess and go with that to be safe.
Men are to wear a tuxedo, simple as that.
Fancy clothes aren’t cheap either, so if you don’t want to spend the money to buy something you’ll only wear once or twice, check with a friend. OR have a friend who has a friend with a ball gown, as was my case! It was a total Cinderella slipper moment, except with this girl’s ball gown. It fit perfectly which never happens to me ever when it comes to sharing other girls’ clothes. I got a free ball gown and a new friend all in one go. Dream come true! With the dress taken care of, that left shoes and accessories, both of which were also taken care of by another friend who had exactly what I needed. What I’m saying is raid your friends’ closets or put out a call for help and see if they’ve got what you need so you don’t have to spend unnecessarily. You’ll feel exceptionally triumphant if you can pull it off.
We couldn’t find anyone with a tux for Will to borrow, so he rented his from here. You can rent gowns from them as well, and they appear to make small alterations when necessary.
How to Look
From what I’ve heard, most girls who attend a ball get their hair done, and maybe their makeup too. Since this ball was most likely a one time thing, I went ahead and did both using money I’ve been saving from my “Holly envelope”. (Thanks Dave Ramsey!) Will was ready in 10 minutes, so aside from a spritz of cologne, possibly shaving and getting your hair cut, there’s not a lot required for you, fellas.
I will say: if you’re a mom of littles, you will be trying everything possible to protect your perfectly done hair and makeup from your kids until the babysitters arrive. You may hear yourself saying, “Oh honey I love you so much but please don’t touch me until tomorrow.” I managed to go to the ball with hair and makeup in place, but it was a challenge for sure.
How it Works
After you’ve dressed to the nines and experienced a case of prom deja vu, it’s time to ball it up. (Hehe.)
You’ll need to decide on the time you want to arrive and leave. The Blumenball went from 8pm to 5am. 5am. That seems like madness to me, but hey, if you can swing it, I applaud your endurance. Perhaps my view is one of a ‘hasn’t stayed up past midnight voluntarily in years, sleep deprived mom’. I talked with an experienced ball-goer who recommended we arrive right at 8pm in order to get the best pictures possible before the majority of the attendees flocked in. We arrived a little after 8pm, checked our coats and wandered the halls which were filled floor to ceiling with the most gorgeous floral arrangements we’d ever seen. No column was left bare, no wall left naked, no table forgotten. Flowers of every color imaginable dangled from light fixtures and poured from giant cement vases. They lined staircases and looped around railings and brought an entirely new beauty to each salon and gallery. After 45 minutes of flower gazing, we went to the main ballroom to plant ourselves in front of a red rope for the traditional opening dance. This is where a table reservation might come in handy, as your table is either located on the floor with the dances, or along the balcony where you’re able to see the ceremony from above (this is the layout of the Rathaus). If you do not have a table reservation, you have to find a spot along the red rope so as not to intermingle with those who have tables during the ceremony. However, once the opening number is in process, the rope is taken away so everyone can dance together. If you know how to waltz, it’s quite romantic! If you don’t know how to waltz (like me), it’s more like, Oh wow that looks like it would be romantic!
The opening ceremony is traditionally led by the debutantes. These are young women dressed in white floor-length gowns with white gloves, usually holding a small bouquet in one hand and the arm of her gentleman dance partner in the other. At the Blumenball, the debutantes were signaled in by the performance of the evening’s orchestra. After a short procession, Vienna’s Mayor, Michael Häupl, welcomed the ball’s guests on behalf of the city’s gardeners and landscapers then officially deemed the Blumenball to be underway. Once everyone was allowed onto the ballroom floor, I dragged Will with me to snag some pictures, which I managed to do before we raced back to the sidelines after being trampled on by multiple waltzers.
What you do after the ceremony is entirely up to you. At this ball, there were multiple options to choose from in order to stay entertained throughout the night. We could stay in the grand ballroom for continued classical dances, visit a neighboring salon (the fancy word for “room”) for rotating genres of music, or eat. We chose to eat because we’re completely confident in our ability to eat and eat well which is the opposite of how we felt about our dancing abilities. We found a large dining hall and happily ate kasekrainers. And can I just say I’ve never felt more attractive than when sitting in a freshly cleaned, satin ball gown eating a piece of grilled meat with hot cheese oozing out of it. 10 out.of. 10.
We need to talk about dancing and why you should not do what I did. I thought… that even though we were going to a ball, we wouldn’t need to know how to dance. I assumed… that since thousands of people go each year, including tourists, that there was no way everyone present would know how to move and sway and jive and twirl to every song of every genre performed. Please, please understand me when I tell you from my innermost being that I WAS SUPER WRONG. I mean I’m wrong about things 100 times a day, but this level of wrong? Maybe when I underestimated the pain of childbirth, I dunno. But I was just flat-out, 100% incorrect on this one which made our dancing experience excruciatingly embarrassing and completely hilarious. Our first big dance attempt was in the grand ballroom where the classic dances were still going on: polka, tango, waltz. Several times we tried to dance with everyone else, and each time we couldn’t keep up. We studied the moves from off the dance floor, but of course everyone had their own style so it was impossible to choose even the most basic of steps. And after a few minutes we’d try again and feel pretty good about it because of that one time we took dance classes 2 years ago, then before we knew it we were over our heads and Will would start yelling, “Oh no… We did it again… They’re stepping on us! They know we’re not supposed to be here! ABORT! ABORT!”
We clearly didn’t mesh with the classically trained dancers, so we gave one of the salons a shot. It seemed more relaxed especially since it was considerably smaller compared to the ballroom. We tried our best to dance to the slower, acoustic, sometimes jazzy tunes, but sure enough… “ABORT! ABORT!”
So we didn’t fit in with the classic crowd, and we didn’t fit in with the chill crowd, but perhaps, we figured, we’ll fit in with the rave crowd down in the basement, which is an odd thing to figure since we don’t rave and have never raved, but the room was dark save for the sparkle lights and it looked like a safe place to hide our inabilities. But we quickly discovered we didn’t fit down there either. The room was mainly filled with woo girls and popular songs, and the only way Will and I know what’s popular in pop these days is if our youth group teens fill us in, but we usually don’t ask because their music hurts our brains so, we were lost. Now sadly, had they played rap music from the late 90s and early 2000s, I would’ve been totally at home. (Hotlanta – woo!) (Kidding.) We did have fun though, and it was nice to not get stepped on or elbowed.
If I were to do this again, I would prepare. Not hand out a ton of money on classes-prepare, but I would YouTube several basic dances and practice with Will leading up to the ball. Or maybe see if a friend could teach us a thing or two. That’s what I recommend, anyway, for those who want to surface from a ball physically and emotionally unscathed.
(But if you don’t prepare, you’ll still have so much fun and laugh so hard at yourself for years to come.)
A Few Sidenotes
- Transportation – Will and I took public to the ball. It was fine, but I was freezing and overall found it difficult to walk from train to train in a gown and frighteningly tall high heels. In hindsight it may have been better to Uber, which we did do when we left the ball at midnight to relieve our [phenomenal] babysitters of their duties. Public transportation does not run all night, so check your route and what you need (Uber, taxi, Car2Go, DriveNow) before you go.
- Clothing – It may be because I’m a person who’s cold all the time, but I wish I’d brought a sweater or wrap. The Rathaus is a very old building with many old doors that were left open. Once we started dancing I warmed up quite a bit, but whenever we took time to watch people dance or get water or a bite to eat, I’d get cold again. When you check your coat, the attendants give you a ticket and you’re able to come and go as you please, so had I brought a sweater in my bag, I could’ve easily grabbed it or given it back. The same is true for shoes. Multiple women told me to bring flats in my bag in case my feet started to hurt. This was brilliant advice. More brilliant advice led me to go ahead and put band aids on the backs of my heels to prevent blisters from ruining the night. I sported Batman band aids on each heel, and he did a great job protecting me. Thank you for your service, Batman.
- Food – A friend told me to eat plenty beforehand so as not to get hungry at the ball. Because of time constraints and children, we didn’t eat before we went. Luckily there were pop-up restaurants at the ball so all was well, but that may not be the case for every ball, so that’s definitely something to look into before you attend a ball on an empty stomach.
- Reservations – If you’re hesitant to go to a ball because of the cost (I hear you), I think it’s perfectly fine to go without a table reservation. I can see the appeal of a table since you’d consistently have a place to return to after dancing your feet off, and you get a nice view of the performance at the beginning, but ultimately you’re going to be moving from room to room, and those rooms may also have places to sit and rest. So if I were you I’d just go and not worry about getting a seat.
- Experience – HAVE THE BEST TIME! Even though I was severely lacking in the dance department, I had a ball. (Eh? Eh?) It was magical and so special. Enjoy yourself, and then tell everyone you know about the time you lived like a Habsburg and attended a real Viennese ball.
Have you been to a ball? Was your experience similar or totally different? Tell me your story in the comment section below!