Oxford balls are ridiculously expensive and socially discriminatory

(134 Posts)
funnyperson Sun 17-Feb-13 04:18:00

Well just that, really. Assuming that a student is sociable enough to have friends at different colleges, it is nice to be able to think of going to a number of different balls, especially in the summer. Except that the 'cheap' ball tickets are £85 and more usually £120. A young student recently won free tickets to two balls, totalling £210. Given that the balls are the main college social events this is sad. Min budget for tickets to go to, say, 5 balls a year including the Union ball but excluding a law society ball would be £700. The rich, in short, only dance with the rich.

funnyperson Thu 21-Feb-13 21:19:15

Yes, so highly unlikely to be anything very formal.

Yellowtip Thu 21-Feb-13 22:19:17

I think anything goes funny and all the better for it.

MooncupGoddess Thu 21-Feb-13 22:36:31

I was quite over-excited about my first Cambridge ball, but in the event found it rather cold and boring. And my best friend abandoned me to cop off with someone unsuitable.

I never bothered going to another one but had many delightful evenings at formal hall (£5 for three borderline edible courses) followed by sitting on someone's carpet until 3 a.m. drinking port. So long as your DD has nice friends to do things with it doesn't really matter what those things are.

BlueyDragon Fri 22-Feb-13 06:33:37

In the second year I bought a chocolate coloured silk dress, with a straight ankle length skirt and spaghetti straps, in the Laura Ashley sale. I had to get it altered to fit properly but it then did about ten years service for balls, formal hall, Boat Club dinners, Inns of Court dinners and the rest. It was a perfect dress up/down dress and the colour hid the stains the dry cleaner couldn't remove blush. Tbh, I don't think anyone gave a monkey's what we wore, but the dressing up was fun!

Ohhhh, I've gone all nostalgic for sweaty bops, balls, rowing, cold college rooms and hours in the library - good job I've got a Gaudy in September so I can go and be an old fart wallow in nostalgia.

SCOTCHandWRY Fri 22-Feb-13 11:22:21

So much easier for the "boys"! My DS's sub fusc suit does for exams, formal hall and most formal events - he has several very different "fancy" shirts and coloured Bow-ties to mix and match.

Abra1d Fri 22-Feb-13 11:26:09

Lesson in life: you can't always afford to do what you'd like to do. I would love to spend more time in London networking and improving my professional connections but I can't afford the fares. That's tough, but just the way life goes sometimes.

I'm sure she could afford to go to one ball if she took up the tips above re. dresses. etc. it's much easier to get cheap but lovely things these days than it was in the eighties when I was at Oxford.

I only went to one ball a year. So did most of my friends.

funnyperson Sat 23-Feb-13 05:14:47

Dear abraid I dont know why your post worries me, perhaps I'm taking it too seriously, but phrases such as 'thats life' to describe not being able to afford fares to keep up professional networks wouldn't wash in our family. If you have a profession, that is a priority- and if you don't have the money to keep up your profession, in my view something is wrong and needs to change.

Balls could be a way of creating social networks except that there are so many ways of being sociable in Oxford that they aren't really essential at all, just fun. That said, my own university balls invariably seemed to end in romantic declarations: whether suitable or not was a matter of judgement. You are right about clothes, though- even fine quality clothes are much much cheaper now than they were in the eighties. There has been a wonderful range of ball going on this thread- between 1 to 7 a year. smile

funnyperson Sat 23-Feb-13 05:20:57

Ball tickets are expensive, but it has been lovely reading about the creative ways in which students manage to go if they really want.
I am of the view that those on a maximum loan or bursary should be given a ticket to their college ball- one a year would be £450 (not that each college has a ball every year) over 3 years at £150 for a dining ticket. This wouldn't apply to my DD, but I think, despite what boomting said, that some students would struggle to attend even if they really really wanted.

Abra1d Sat 23-Feb-13 08:16:15

Indeed something needs to change. My husband has been unemployed for two years and we hope very much that will change soon.

BlueyDragon Sun 24-Feb-13 07:46:20

funny, I've never used a connection made at a ball. Really, they're parties not networking opportunities. I have used the connections I have made through college, and university societies, but they weren't forged at drunken parties but over long periods of time possibly involving multiple drunken parties. You don't know where you will end up long term, so I'd take the view that making a social network is more important at uni than a professional one. That social network just might be helpful in the future, but I don't think you can plan it the other way around. Professional networking starts more when you do professional training post graduating IME.

Abra1d Sun 24-Feb-13 14:18:06

I don't think I can even remember who was at the balls I went to. Sometimes I look at photos and someone says, 'Oh, look, that's you!' and I have no recollection of having been at the event. Mind you, as I'm now 49 it was all a long time ago.

funnyperson Sun 24-Feb-13 22:56:58

Agree, I don't think balls are about networking. The very thought makes me want to vomit slightly.

georgettemagritte Fri 01-Mar-13 21:16:22

Another person here who went to one a year (Cam, 1990s); most people I knew went to one ball and/or to one or two of the cheaper events per year and some to one or two or none the whole three years. Some balls were a lot cheaper than others (Robinson, 50 quid; Magdalene, 130 quid for a single ticket). My own students now seem to go to anything between a couple a year to none at all. (Lots of students never go, and that's also quite usual - and that doesn't seem to depend on wealth - they just don't particularly want to!) To be honest I didn't actually enjoy the ones I went to that much. There's a lot of queuing, everyone's tired and emotional at the end of the year, I didn't want to drink a lot at 3am, and it gets very cold quickly which I found a bit unpleasant (my top tip for actually enjoying a ball is to take a thick woolly cardigan and check it in to the cloakroom - your DD will be the smart one in the early hours when it starts to freeze!) It's not at all about networking - you don't meet anyone new at a ball. Students go in couples or friendship groups and don't really mix. The only alumni who tend to go are a few middle-aged couples who fancy reliving their youth, and a few of the college fellows often get in free. But it's purely a social event. As others have said, it's also normal to work at one or more balls, either as a helper or as part of the entertainment; or to pick up cheap last-minute tickets from people who can't go and are willing to sell their tickets on for less than they paid. I always wanted to crash a ball but never did. I think it's a lot easier for the men - you can't easily climb a wall in an evening dress!

Dresses - I'd suggest your DD ask about to find what others are wearing, as it changes a lot depending on current fashions amongst the undergrads. When I was there girls dressed down a bit more casually so they could be comfortable and have more fun - a long black spaghetti-strap dress and a colourful pashmina was the norm. I went to a ball on a cheap last-minute ticket as a grad student a few years later and assumed everyone would wear the same - not at all, the fashion then was for big-skirted strapless princessy pastel gowns and I looked like I was just popping to the shops in my understated dress! Every year it's great fun to walk past the queues of students as they wait to go in and see what the current ball gown trends are - they were big and showy in the mid-2000s but the last couple of years have been a bit more understated. Lots of the girls still just go to Monsoon and get a simple long gown. Some wear little cocktail dresses (usually in a tulle prom dress style). But there will be a particular "look" each year, so asking about amongst friends will give your DD an idea what is the fashion at the moment. I wouldn't spend huge amounts of money for one night though! And very high heels look great but wil hurt a LOT very quickly - smaller heels or even flats will allow her to enjoy it all a bit more.

mathanxiety Sat 02-Mar-13 22:31:19

Funnyperson, I would let your DD do her own sweet thing wrt her dress for the ball. I would be as handsey offey as I could be and let her figure it out for herself.

exoticfruits Sat 02-Mar-13 22:38:32

I can't see why you would go to more than one and if they are used to network I would stay well away- it sounds dire. It is a good preparation for life, there are a lot of things that I don't go to because I can't afford it.

funnyperson Sun 03-Mar-13 16:28:31

DD isn't the big skirted strapless princessy gown type. I went to John Lewis in Oxford street just for fun thinking I would buy some gorgeous floaty silky stuff and make it into a spaghetti strap type thing but their Haberdashery is much much reduced. Harvey Nicols had strappy dresses in their online sale-all seemed, as you say, quite understated. Anyway I also went into the local 'Warehouse' shop and they had some pretty floaty stylish dresses in the sale left over from Christmas for - I kid you not- £10 (original price £150 or so) so I bought a couple and sent them to DD in time for the boat club dinner and other events, they were apparently just the thing. The summer ball gown still hasn't been sorted but I will be handsoffy as advised. I may handknit a cardigan. It helps me not to miss her too much.
Oxford is a wonderful place. I have been really bowled over by the academic and cultural/sporting/social opportunities which DD can access. I do recommend it.

GrendelsMum Fri 08-Mar-13 11:20:11

I was at Cambridge (some years ago now...)

I think I actually paid to go to two balls, one at my college and one at my boyfriend's college, during my 4 years there (might just have paid for one, to be honest). In order to earn the money for it I did some highly unglamorous extra work in the holidays. There certainly wasn't any networking involved. Colleges do organise networking events (or at least, mine does), but they're not very exciting (e.g. a talk, a drinks reception and a dinner) and either very cheap or free.

Apart from that, I worked at several - probably two or three every year. The deal is that if you work half the night, you can attend the ball for the other half the night.

I think that really the excitement of the balls for the students is that they are one offs precisely because they're so expensive.

I totally agree with the advice re flat shoes and a very warm shawl or thick cardigan!

ChompieMum Fri 08-Mar-13 11:38:59

Interesting thread. When I was at school I was encouraged to try for Oxbridge. I was shown some sort of a promotional video in which the balls were discussed. Not sure how it was revealed but somehow it came up in the video that the balls cost £100. My Dad had been out of work for 2 years following redundancy, I had 4 siblings and my Mum was doing a low paid part time job to try to keep us afloat. In those circumstances, the thought of spending £100 on a ball was unthinkable so I decided I would not fit in socially and decided not to try for it. I think things like this do put off people in lower income brackets. Don't know how you could change it though. Hard to tell people that they can't have a good party if that is what they want.

Eurostar Fri 08-Mar-13 11:40:20

I went to an Oxbridge ball as a guest on an alumni years back. I think I wore a dress from Next, I didn't feel out of place. I think they take pictures when you go in while still sober and in one piece so I suppose you have that as a memory. I found it awful as an older "non-involved" visitor. Not very good entertainment, cold night, increasingly drunk and badly behaved students - dresses and suits in quite a state by the time I left, which was not even the end, I'm sure you would regret spending too much hard earned cash on something to wear. I'm sure it's lovely if you are with a group of friends, enjoy getting the chance to dress up, release steam after exams and finally get in a clinch with that person you've fancied all year.

As for sending your daughter up to college with a ballgown....how quaint...
OP sorry if this is out place on this thread but you sound overly involved in your daughter's university life, I imagine she could feel quite pressured by you getting up in arms about her only going to one ball and scouting around for dresses for her.

Meanwhile - there are an amazing number of Oxbrige grads on this forum!

Eurostar Fri 08-Mar-13 11:43:25

...oh and one of my friend's DC is at Oxford and they have all sorts of parties (including toga!) and social events and sporting events and drama events. To say that the ball is the main event and will harm your possibility to have friendships and a lasting social circle if you don't go is just ridiculous.

funnyperson Sun 10-Mar-13 16:03:54

Hey hey hey Eurostar I'm not up in arms. I was having a financially induced grump. Of course it is true what you say. It is perfectly possible to have a nice time dressed in a sheet.

The best way I can think to describe an Oxbridge ball is like a cross between a school prom and an all-inclusive festival - everyone is in pretty dresses and suits but there is live entertainment, drink and food all night. They are probably the least "networky" of any of the formal events I've been to at Oxbridge (as an undergrad, postgrad and now as an academic). My knowledge is of Cambridge so may be a bit different but:
1) You'd be ridiculously, RIDICULOUSLY lucky to get tickets for 5 balls. Most of them depend on you knowing people at that particular college well enough for them to allocate you one of their guest tickets - this can be as little as 3 at some colleges, or pure luck in getting tickets in the few minutes in which they are on sale to other colleges before they sell out. 3 maybe but I'm almost certain no-one your DD knows will be going to 5 - hence probably why she doesn't want to! You'd be exhausted by the end of the week (not sure they're all in the same week at Oxford but at Cambridge they are).
2) This is one week, towards the end of the year (in Cambridge right at the end of the year). You make friends before that. It sounds like your DD has good friends already. One night is not going to make a difference to friendship groups. Most of the social life revolves around clubbing, sports, society activities exactly the same as any other uni.
3) As someone said upthread, they are all night parties, not networking opportunities. I never "met" anyone at a May Ball because I hung around with my friends, it wasn't an opportunity to meet people.

And yes, DEFINITELY flat shoes (or heels for photos and take flats to change into) and something warm to cover up with when it gets chilly later on! I hope your DD has a lovely time smile

funnyperson Sun 10-Mar-13 23:46:48

Thank you BrummieMummie smile

LittleBearPad Mon 11-Mar-13 00:12:09

I think you've got a bit too involved in a misguided concept of Oxbridge balls. They are really not the centre of social life - guest dinners and bops are more frequent and much cheaper. To be honest the centre of life are evenings in the college bar/JCR. All college events typically revolve around bad dancing, massive quantities of alcohol and the rugby team / boaties getting naked plus being up to stupid o'clock in the morning and buying chips and cheese from one of Oxfords fine kebab establishments.

To be honest I'd also let your daughter sort out her own outfit unless she asks for your help. She may decide to wear one of the warehouse dresses you sent her previously. No one will care if she's worn it before. Access to comfy shoes is helpful although I used to just go bare foot after a while.

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