Dear Etiquetteer: I have been invited to attend the Governor's Inaugural Ball in January, a black tie event. My escort is an older widowed gentleman who is a member of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company (and will be part of the inauguration). I'm a woman of a certain older age and have never been asked to such a thing before! Can you advise me, in a general way, what to wear? I'm a nervous wreck!
What an honor to be invited to such an august occasion! While this may be a novel experience for you, ladies have been agonizing about what to wear for millennia, and what you see as a predicament will actually be a lot of fun.
A black-tie ball calls for a long gown with matching shoes. This may be why so many ladies choose black, which Etiquetteer finds rather overdone. But it is said that plain satin shoes may be dyed to match; Etiquetteer encourages you to inquire at your local shoe store. A ball is also a wonderful excuse to bring out any real jewelry you have. Diamonds are a girl's best friend, as the song goes, and a girl should be able to give her friends a good time every once in awhile.
Regardless of your politics, Conservative Good Taste should guide you in your selection of gown. Don't go to extremes. In other words, don't let your decolletage plunge too low, nor your hemline too high, nor your sparkle too blinding. This is even more important since you identify yourself as Woman of a Certain Age, and it is more Perfectly Proper to present oneself with dignity and style rather than boldness and fads. Because this is your first ball and you want to attract attention for the right reasons - which means blending in, not standing out - Etiquetteer would suggest that you stay away from gowns with hoops or enormous puffy petticoats.
While not as popular in America as they ought to be, Etiquetteer encourages you to consider Perfectly Proper white gloves to wear with your gown. You'll find a link to a glover on Etiquetteer's links page.