Grown-Up Dress Up: Costumed Counterculture

Remember dressing up as a kid? It doesn't matter who you are, male or female, we ALL did it. Superheroes, cartoon characters, celebrities, pop stars, princesses, wild animals, we did it all. Admit it, you fondly remembered one of your favorite childhood costumes just now, reading that list! We dressed up in costumes, and we felt fancy, or special, or powerful. We stepped into a different world by putting on "different clothes". No longer in our everyday dress, we were free to explore other identities, try them on for a while, and play a bit!

As we grew up, however, we stopped dressing in costume as often. Maybe a Halloween costume party, maybe a themed event on occasion, perhaps a formal function here and there, but less and less so, it seems. We had to wear our "normal" clothes to work, to school, out in the world most of the time. And as time has progressed, it has seemed that some trends have leaned more and more towards casual dress; casual Fridays in offices, Denim and Diamonds attire at fundraisers, "Colorado Casual" style has become more the standard. Jeans, boots and blazers replaced suits and ties; leggings, rompers, and slacks overthrew womens' pantsuits and tailored dresses, and dressing up started becoming more a thing of the past.

There are, however, those people in our society, for whom any excuse to dress up is still an exciting prospect. So much so that they are creating events, communities, and cultures around the art of dressing up, just so they, and we, can. And for them, it's the best reason to do anything! Any excuse to dress up is welcomed, and when they dress up, they really go all out!

One of these such fascinating people is Isibella Mircalla Karnstein. Originally from England, Isibella has a style and poise that is exceptional in such a casual world. Isibella now organizes themed events and performances right here in Denver, where costumes and fancy, regal attire are de rigeur. Expected, elaborate, gorgeous. Planned sometimes months in advance by attendees, these are fabulous, elegant grown-up dress up affairs, attended by hundreds, perhaps even thousands of eager revelers. In full costume regalia, of course.

One of the largest and most spectacular events Isibella puts on is the annual Vampire Ball. Held at The Church Nightclub, in partnership with Father Sebastiaan, head of a Vampire community that is a worldwide counterculture all its own, the fangs come out once a year here in Denver for a fancy, sensory-rich experience with a DJ (in costume, of course), live performances including aerial acrobatics and stage shows, and gowns and finery everywhere you look. "I think in the future I would like to create MORE of an excuse to come out and put on the gowns" she told me.

Each year has its own unique theme, and the theme for 2017 was "The Return to Winter Palace - A Masquerade". Based upon the Romanov empire of Russia, and their return to The Winter Palace just before the royal family was so famously executed, this was an event bedecked in fur, jewels, fine materials, high collars, masks, and ball gowns. Where else would you see 1700's Victorian style apparel in 2017? And it. Was. Fabulous.

Everyone gets completely immersed in the mood and the experience, dancing, sipping champagne, and admiring the costumes around them. Performances took place on the stage throughout the evening, including Isibella's Chateau Purrlesque show, where her amazingly beautiful and talented cadre of "kittens", all replete with ears and tails and lovely lingerie danced, frolicked, and performed skits for an enthralled audience. Costumed G0-Go dancers kept the audience entertained between performances as they milled about. Vendors of theme-centric goods were on hand for any of your costume or accessory needs as well, just in case you forgot something, or felt the urge to expand your wardrobe.

In a privileged interview conducted the night of this year's Ball with Isibella and Father Sebastiaan, head of the worldwide Sabretooth Vampire clan and a partner in Isibella's local Vampire Ball endeavor, Isibella talked about the lifestyle of these events, the culture, and what motivates her to plan and put on such lavish productions. When asked what her favorite part about the events and the culture she is helping to create is, she stated, in her charming English lilt, "Dressing up. Putting on the outfit is really fun, it's just something different to do, and I think people really enjoy it".

I am most definitely one of those people. And so I thanked Isibella and Father Sebastiaan for their love and passion and unbelievably hard work to put together an experience, a world, an alternate dimension, really, for us all to play in, and I look eagerly forward to the next Vampire Ball, which will be a Valhalla theme, on February 18, 2018.

In the meantime you can keep up with Isibella and her Chateau Kittens, who perform their Purrlesque show at various venues on a frequent basis, on FaceBook at The Chateau - Cat Girl Manor, on Instagram @catgirlmanor, and online at