article written by Alicia Luba
‘Tis the season to be bankrupt. Not only have you forked out a ridiculous sum of money on various ball tickets (you’re convinced the term ‘unlimited’ justifies the expense) you now have to dress for the occasion. The tension, the tension. Do you scour the rails over Easter or wait until the eve of the event? Buying in advance is a sure way to avoid the last minute sprint down High Street but will your pre-emptive strike deliver the goods on the day? If you are attending a ball post 6thweek, could all the inevitable Oxford cycling, stress and post ‘chocfest’ comedown mean you’ve dropped a dress size? And then how will you return the now-too-loose gown? The 28 day return policy shed its validity long ago.
As I said, the tension. Waiting until term time to buy means that you pretty much resign yourself into the hands of Coast and Monsoon or, for those of us unafraid to use our overdrafts, The Ballroom. Inevitably, you won’t be the only person on Trinity’s big night wearing the midnight blue strapless number with the faux-diamond front. If a ‘two of a kind’ situation is your worst nightmare, there is a simple solution. Take yourself to London. I know, I know, ‘the essays! The problem sheets!’ you cry. Work like a maniac during the week before hopping on the Tube and spending a day on Oxford Street. Covent Garden or Portobello Road are the obvious alternatives for something a bit more colourful or original. The collections of most high street stores feature one or two ‘options’ for balls but you can guarantee that if you buy Topshop’s reasonably priced £45 version, someone else will have done the same. The flagship store, on the other hand, has those cavernous vaults where you can find vintage items or hunt around in the concessions. They are also stockists of Lipsy, which is tricky to get hold of in Oxford unless you’re comfortable with internet ordering which, when it comes to ball dresses, I am certainly not. The brand always has a great selection to fulfil the black tie criteria. Selling mostly cocktail dresses, these can be accessorised on the night but also worn again on crew dates and Clems outings.
White tie events don’t let us off so easily. When you hand over your £200 or thereabouts for the ticket, consider it a down payment on a much larger sum of approximately £500 which will include the dress. Again, get yourself to London or befriend a survivor of last year’s ball who happens to be the same size as you and doesn’t mind adopting a ‘wear and share’ policy. This is one of the more morally acceptable ways to wriggle out of ball-bankruptcy. The other is a road travelled only by the bravest, that of the ‘wear-return-and-run’. Not for the faint hearted, a few preliminaries need to be observed before an operation like this can be successfully carried out. Watch the way the sales assistant folds the dress into the bag, do not break the sticker which seals said bag, safeguard the receipt, stay away from anyone brandishing a ketchupy item on the night and for Heaven’s sake buy a good deodorant. If you remember all this and even re-wrap the dress in its immaculately preserved tissue paper you’ll be fine.
For those with both money and morals Halston Heritage, Antik Batik or Issa won’t let you down for white tie while Acne, Malene Birger or Paul & Joe Sister are go-to labels for black. Finally, distil your pre-event social circle to avoid additional stress. Aside from those with the larger bank accounts, the most contemptible humans around ball season are undoubtedly the ‘I’ve only got to wear a suit, right?’ men-folk.