The SASS Scarlet Ball -

 The History Behind the Theme

By Sharon Guli of River Crossing Inc. (aka Miss Tabitha, SASS #26972), with thanks to Neil Vincent of The Vincent Collection, Bainbridge Island, Washington

Red Poppy Dress, Vincent Collection Mr. Rod Cook in Red Vest
"This lavish...gown may have been worn to one of the fashionable scarlet parties of the era..." - Neil Vincent Mr. Rod Cook of the Shadows of the Victorian Past Dance Exhibition Team, Denver, CO


In the 1880’s, it was fashionable to host parties with a color theme.  Harper’s Bazar, a popular magazine of the Victorian era, published several articles on this topic.  The following are a few excepts from 1886: 

“(For) a green dinner...the table is decorated with smilax and green leaves; all the names are inscribed on green ribbons, which extend from the centre of the table, radiating to each guest, with the name of the person to whom it is addressed written, in gold, on the ribbon... At one opulent dinner table all the glass was of that pale green tint which looks so cool, and china with a green edge was used.  There were bouquets of green leaves of different tints, and a few buds still in their green sheath.  All the varieties of green vegetables, as asparagus, spinach, and lettuce, were freely experimented upon, and a salmon with a green sauce was of course in order. 

At a pink dinner...the whole table was couleur de rose; glass, china, and table-cloth were all of a roseate complexion; the pink lamp shades and pink roses, the ribbons and pink damask cloth, made for once a pretty novelty.  Pink fans, of course, accompanied this pink dinner... 

A blue dinner is far more difficult to manage.  It is an unbecoming color for lamp shades, making every one look ghastly.  It is therefore necessary to confine ones’ self to blue ribbons, and almost the only blue flower we have, the forget-me-not...bring out the “old blue” china, which is always worth seeing.  Blue menus and blue chairs, blue portieres and blue fans and favors, are sometimes added...A piece of rich embroidered blue brocade may be stretched under the silver epergne (ornamental centerpiece).” 

Other references indicate that scarlet parties were popular throughout the 1880’s. At these gatherings, the ladies’ gowns, decorations, and much of the food were red, and gentlemen wore red carnations in their buttonholes.  Proper evening attire for gentlemen normally consisted of a cutaway tailcoat paired with a white vest and tie (for a white tie affair), and of course a white flower in the lapel of the coat. One clothing historian claims that the modern tradition of wearing a red rose boutonnière with evening attire is a throwback to that first change for a scarlet party. 

Most trends go through phases of popularity, and in 1897 you find the reoccurrence of the scarlet party: 

“Scarlet parties have been given before, but they are revived again, and some girls have arranged to give one next week which they pretend will outdo all previous attempts at this sort of entertainment.  They have sent out all the invitations on scarlet paper (but of course in white envelopes) and have asked the guests to come arrayed from top to toe in brilliant scarlet.  It is hard on the blond girls, and will, no doubt, make them look ghastly pale; but they are quite willing to sacrifice the becoming in order not to mar the effect of the tout ensemble.  The men will all wear red coats.  That they do not object to, as their golf coats and hunting coats come into good play, and are always effective. 

One of the prettiest gowns, to be worn by one of the girls, is to be of red mousseline de soie, accordion-pleated, made over silk of a much deeper shade.  The same idea of two tones is carried out in the bodice, which will be of a pale shade of the mousseline de soie over the darker silk, and it will be trimmed with shaded red roses, from the palest pink to the deepest red.  In her hair she will wear an aigrette of the three shades.  Red satin slippers and red silk stockings and a pair of black kid gloves will complete this stunning costume, which will have the advantage of perhaps escaping the "Mephistophelian" appearance of some of the other girls' dresses.  Jacqueminot rose paper shades will cover the lamps both on the table and in the drawing-room, and bonbons, cakes, and all that goes for table decorations will be tied up with red satin ribbons.” 

In keeping with this tradition, SASS is pleased to present The Scarlet Ball as the theme of the 2006 Vegas Convention.  The ballroom will be decorated in tones of red of just the right scarlet hue, with touches of ivory and gold, evoking feelings of passion, warmth and of Christmas festivity.  As much as possible, the table decorations and food itself will carry out the scarlet theme, as well. 

Of course, it will only add to the holiday spirit for the attendees to arrive in scarlet-inspired finery.  Some of the ladies may wish to dress head-to-toe in red gowns, while others may instead choose to simply accentuate their dresses with a touch of scarlet here and there.  Gentlemen always look dashing in black tuxedos and frock coats, and can cater to the scarlet theme just by adding a red boutonnière.  Others might opt to wear a scarlet vest or a classy red tie at the neck.  I expect a few bold gentlemen may throw themselves completely into the part, and the scarlet outfits they arrive in will be delightfully shocking to see!  For those who enjoy showcasing their outfits in the costume contest, a special “Fantasy Scarlet” category will be added for this event. 

As with last year’s Masquerade theme, each person attending can dress the part as much or as little as they personally prefer.  For some, this will be another excellent opportunity to create an elaborate piece, and for others, the simplest touch of red added in the form of a boutonnière, sash or flower will be perfectly acceptable.  

This year’s ball will be a beautiful, elegant and festive affair.  Prepare for the passion of The SASS Scarlet Ball!


Printed by permission of The Cowboy Chronicle

For more information about SASS (The Single Action Shooting Society), The Cowboy Chronicle, or the 5th Annual SASS Convention & Wild West Christmas to take place in Las Vegas, NV December 7 - 10, 2006, please visit

Call 970-221-4854 to book Sharon Guli for your own Scarlet Ball!