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Stepping Back in Time in Their Finest Dress

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Eight Albright students and two faculty members attended the Civil War Preservation Ball in Harrisburg: (l to r, front) Autumn Galka '16, Alison Kluxen '16, Susie Benitez '15; (middle row) Devin Palmieri '17, associate professor Christian Hamann, Ph.D., associate professor Paula Trimpey, Samantha Gardecki '16, Jonathan Lamangan '16; (top row) State Rep. Harry Readshaw, Sheldon Carpenter '14, and Alexio Barboza '16

Albright College students displayed their design skills at the Civil War Preservation Ball in Harrisburg.

They pored over books and unearthed dress patterns from the period. They spent long hours creating the elaborate hooped skirts – measuring about 4 feet in diameter – and hand sewed tassels, lace and other accoutrements to the brightly-colored fabric.

“We did it the hard way, but the authentic way,” said Samantha Gardecki ’16.

In the end, their diligence and attention to detail paid off. Gardecki and her fellow Albright College fashion/costume design students had created genuine Civil War-era ball gowns. Scarlett O’Hara would be proud.

“I hadn’t made anything like that before,” said Gardecki.

But what good is a gown when you have no place to wear it? Luckily these students did.

They slipped on their costumes and stepped back in time for the 11th annual Civil War Preservation Ball at the Capitol Rotunda in Harrisburg in March. The event, organized by the Victorian Dance Ensemble, supports the Gettysburg Monument Endowment Trust Fund, and raised $8,500, for a total of $75,000 over the life of the event.

Gardecki, along with sophomores Autumn Galka and Alison Kluxen, and junior Susie Benitez, had created the Victorian-era gowns as part of Paula Trimpey’s January Interim costume construction course. Trimpey, associate professor of theatre and fashion, invited her students to join her at the ball.

In addition to making the gowns, the costume design students also crafted frock coats for their male escorts – four Albright students, plus Albright associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry Christian Hamann, Ph.D.

The Civil War ball operates under many of the etiquette rules and societal customs of the time period. For instance, women and men wear gloves, and the dancing is more communal, with attendees constantly switching partners on the floor.

To prepare themselves for the old-fashioned frolic, the Albright students attended a dance workshop offered by the Victorian Dance Ensemble. They “gave it the old college try,” said Trimpey.

Added Benitez: “There are so many steps. But we had a lot of fun, and that’s all that really mattered. You get to dance with everyone in the room because you switch partners, so you meet a lot of people.”

Gardecki, for instance, spent a stretch dancing with a 10-year-old boy.

More than 225 people, young and old, from near and far, attended the annual ball. Not everyone came in a handmade outfit, though.

“I think the girls were really surprised by how well dressed they were,” said Trimpey. “They looked the part.”

Costume designers typically create clothes for others to wear and rarely don their own constructions. But the ball, said Trimpey, proved an exception -- and an educational one. “This was a great opportunity for them to get to know what it’s like to be an actor on stage and what they need,” she said.

The costume students also learned first-hand how difficult it was to maneuver in Victorian-era dress, with their hooped skirts, many layers of crinoline, and corsets.

On the ride to the ball, Gardecki said, she was slumped awkwardly in her seat on the Albright van. “But by the end of the night, I had gotten used to it,” she said with a laugh.

The ball was a hit, and Trimpey and the students plan to attend similar events in the future.

“We had so much fun, and it’s a fun time period for costumes,” said Benitez. “Everything is so pretty and decorative.”

In the past, the Albright fashion department has hosted Victorian balls, with students creating their own period dress. The Victorian Dance Ensemble has also provided dance instruction at those events.

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