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Blane’s Style Files: A Guide to Oxford Balls

Balls are a staple in the Oxford social calendar, being held by almost every college and society at the university. One issue with Oxford’s balls is how expensive they are. With tickets starting around £100 for society balls, and often approaching £300 for college commemoration balls, it’s important that you make the most of your ball experience. Here are some Blane’s Style Files (TM) certified tips to help you have fun at any balls you go to.

Black Tie Vs White Tie

Most college commemoration balls are ‘white tie’ and most society balls are ‘black tie’, but what does this mean?

Black tie is, essentially, a suit with a bow tie. Despite the use of ‘black’ in the title, no element of the outfit technically has to be black, so why not experiment with a coloured velvet jacket, or a patterned bow tie?

Optional extras for black tie include a pair of fun cufflinks, a lapel pin, or a cummerbund.

On the other hand, white tie is much more formal, and a much stricter dress code. In terms of suits, a white tie outfit consists of a tailcoat, a white bowtie, and a white waistcoat. White tie trousers often have a black satin stripe down the outside of each leg, and white tie shirts often have a wing collar, meaning that you can see the band of the bowtie as it goes round your neck, and so a pre-tied bowtie is very easily noticed and can look out of place.

Ball organisers sometimes send out discounts to ticketholders so that they can rent their white tie ensembles for less than the cost of buying them outright, but the total cost of hiring white tie is still usually more than £100.

I was lucky enough to find my white tie outfit by scouring charity shops, and eventually pieced it all together for around £65, although it did take a while. If you have the time and the patience, this is definitely a route I recommend, if not only because you then own the outfit and don’t have to rent anything if you go to any more white tie balls in the future.


There is much less of a distinction between black tie dresses and white tie dresses than there is between black tie suits and white tie suits. At both events, the safest option is a ballgown, but shorter cocktail dresses are usually acceptable at black tie events. Historically, black and white tie dress have tended to be unpatterned, and in darker, jewel toned colours, but this isn’t something that really matters nowadays.

Something that isn’t often mentioned is that balls can often get cold at night, even in summer. I recommend taking a shawl or a scarf, or even a bolero jacket to add a unique flair to your outfit while also keeping you warm.

Accessories are really important at balls, so break out your fanciest earrings, necklace, and rings to really make your outfit stand out.


No matter what else you wear to a ball, make sure you are wearing comfortable shoes. Balls can go on until 6am, and you can often be stood up the entire time. Some people take a pair of flip flops with them to change into later on in the night, which is a really good idea if you’re planning on wearing high heels.