A Victorian Fantasy: Speaks with the Organizer of the Albright College Victorian Fashion Ball

Mar 15, 2011

Each year, fashion design students at Albright College in Pennsylvania host a Victorian Fashion Ball featuring 19th century costumes and dancing. recently caught up with Paula E. Trimpey, Assistant Professor of Theatre and Fashion at Albright and the originator of the Victorian Ball.

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By Megan Driscoll

Paula E. Trimpey Albright College Victorian Fashion Ball How did the Victorian Fashion Ball come about?

Paula Trimpey: My interest in Victorian Balls started with an invitation to attend the 30th Volunteer Infantry Ball in Ft Wayne, Indiana. I went out of curiosity and interest in period clothing and fell in love with the social graces of the Victorian era. I've been attending Victorian Balls since 2000, and there is just something lovely about being a woman of that time period. The clothing especially interests me because of the period costuming I do in the theatre.

When I moved to Pennsylvania and started teaching at Albright College, some of my costuming students took an interest in corsetry. So I organized a few workshops where students could actually make corsets from period patterns that I found in my research and on the commercial pattern market. Logical questions followed about the clothing worn over the corsets and how the silhouette was created by the corset, and I offered to create a costume construction course where students could take the next step and create these articles of clothing.

The class filled quickly and ball gowns were in production. I suggested that we have a Victorian Fashion Ball and the students were thrilled with the idea. So many times in theatre, costuming students don't get the opportunity to wear the beautiful costumes they create, so the idea of having a ball was successful. We produced our first ball in the spring of 2009. What is your own educational and professional background in costume design, and how long have you been teaching in the field?

PT: I received a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre from Messiah College in Grantham, PA, and a Master of Fine Arts in Costume Design from Wayne State University in Detroit, MI. My teaching career began in 1991 at Pomona College in Claremont, CA, and includes Dixie College in St. George UT, Huntington University in Huntington, IN, Fredonia State University in Fredonia, NY and Albright College in Reading, PA.

I have had the privilege of doing costume construction and design work with the Utah Shakespearean Festival for more than 20 years and have worked on several touring Broadway shows with Troika Entertainment. My resume is quite lengthy with all types of construction and design work, but teaching is my love. I always try to include students in my research and costume work. Can you tell us about your advanced costume course in which students design and create gowns for the ball?

PT: Advanced Costume Construction is a class for students who have had some sewing experience. This class teaches methods of sewing most commonly used in costume shops, explores period patterns and teaches students how to use them to create a garment. There is a focus on detail and period fabric modification. Most of my students have chosen to make a Victorian ball gown as the final project because they have made a Victorian corset and want to make the gown that goes on top of it. What is the process of designing and creating the costumes like?

PT: The process begins by reading a play numerous times and giving careful consideration of the time and work investment that is needed to complete the costumes. Once committed to the project, an analysis of the play and a considerable amount of research must be done on the fashions of the play's time period with attention to the social, political and economic influences. Throughout the process, the costume designer meets with the director and other production designers to share research and ideas and to discuss their shared vision for the play. Once design decisions are made and fabric and materials are purchased, the costumes are made. The process takes six to ten weeks, depending on the play, and is quite an involved collaboration of people, ideas and problem solving. Collaboration is the key to the success of the production. What other educational experiences do students have in preparing for this event?

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PT: There is usually a period dance and social graces workshop which is typically classified as an Albright Experience Event. The Victorian Dance Ensemble, also known as the Civil War Dancers, usually serve as our dance directors for the ball and they graciously come early that day and hold a dance workshop in the morning. Anyone who is curious or who plans to attend the ball is invited to the workshop. It generally lasts 2-3 hours and the dances of the period that will be featured at the ball are taught. Also, instruction on good manners and proper etiquette are introduced between dance instruction sessions. It's lots of fun and gives everyone that extra bit of confidence on the dance floor. The ball itself is open to members of the public. Can you tell our Pennsylvania readers how they can attend, and what they might expect?

PT: Information on the date and time is always published on the Albright College Fashion Department website. The Fashion Department is hoping to have the next Victorian Fashion Ball in the fall semester of 2011. To add a little interest to our ball, we will be introducing a theme. The two current theme suggestions are a Victorian Masquerade Ball or a Victorian Christmas Ball. If you have any suggestions for our Ball theme or would like information sent to you concerning the next ball, please feel free to contact the Fashion Department through my Albright email address at Finally, I'd like to give you the opportunity to share anything you'd like about the Victorian Fashion Ball or fashion design education at Albright College.

PT: The Fashion Department at Albright College has over 100 students concentrating in Fashion Design, Costume Design, Fashion Merchandising or Fashion Design & Merchandising. Albright College is a liberal arts college so the curriculum includes a wide variety of classes in the liberal arts and sciences. In addition to the Victorian Fashion Ball, we produce an annual Fashion Show. This year's theme is American Girl and it will be presented in early May. The public is welcome and information can be found on our Fashion Department website.

Our students take a very active interest in their study of fashion. They produce a newsletter each semester that has won national awards and enjoy workshops and field trips to New York City that are arranged through their student club, Club Vogue. The students here at Albright College really are a special group. They work hard and achieve wonderful things.

I hope that everyone reading this blog will take some time to look at the website and consider coming to our Victorian Fashion Ball or Annual Fashion Show.

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