My husband and I just returned from Vienna, Austria, where we attended two formal balls. The time between New Year's Eve (Silvester in Austria) and Lent, a period called Fasching, is ball season in Vienna, and in those two months the Viennese manage to organise well over 300 semi-formal and formal balls in various venues.
Having attended the Ball der Offiziere (Officers' Ball) and the Ball der Pharmacie (Pharmacists' Ball) held on two consecutive nights at the Imperial Hofburg Palace, I am pleased to report that black tie, yes, even full evening dress, is alive and well in Vienna. Of course, the Officers' Ball featured primarily military uniforms (the prize for best mess dress goes to the British cavalry officers), but several retired officers and defence ministry employees chose to come in dinner jackets or full evening dress. The Austrians and the Germans looked very good on the dance floor, but their uniforms are nothing to brag about I am afraid.
The Pharmacists' Ball was almost evenly divided between gentlemen in white and black tie. At both events, I personally saw only a few coloured bow ties, no notch lapels, and most trouser waists were properly covered by cummerbunds or waistcoats (rarely), but as there were well over 3,000 people in attendance at each event, I clearly did not see every single person, and I am positive that there were some atrocities. Nonetheless, the difference to similar, albeit much smaller, events in the Washington, DC region was very obvious. It seems that most Viennese gentlemen own a dinner jacket, and do not need to hire.
I also noticed that the Viennese seem to prefer wing-tipped collars, whilst my dad (Brit) always wore turn-down collared shirts with double cuffs with his dinner suit.
Some other observations: pocket squares are popular, several men wore white gloves, top hats and cloaks on several men at Pharmacists' Ball while queued outside for a taxi. Viennese ladies and gents change shoes and bring a pair of dancing shoes in a separate bag. As a result, you typically see boots peek out from underneath ball gowns or worn with tailcoats, and rubber galoshes over patent leather slippers. Whilst this is perhaps not proper and comme il faut, it enables them to deal with snow/ice whilst waiting for a taxi, walking to the car park or the Naschmarkt for an early 4:30 or 5 am breakfast. Yes, these events typically end at 4 o'clock in the morning, and dancing makes you hungry. An early breakfast is part of the experience, and it would be a shame to ruin one's nice shoes because of snow and salt.
P.S. Virtually everybody can ballroom dance. People tangoed, fox trotted, waltzed, jived and cha-chad accross the floor.
Pictures from Ball der Offiziere:
Ball der Pharmacie:
--> click on Ball der Pharmacie --> Fotos