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 14-Mar-13 19:00:34

London. In the golden age of course. grin

LittleBearPad Wed 13-Mar-13 13:10:17

Which university was it and when was it. The ball tickets these days are no more expensive than when I last went in the early 2000s. Not bad considering inflation since then.

funnyperson Wed 13-Mar-13 11:19:43

Just thought I would mention that my ticket at the Savoy was very heavily subsidised for students and cost about £20. All the girls wore high street clothes.

FreckledLeopard Tue 12-Mar-13 16:54:40

I only went to my College Ball. As did most of my friends. Otherwise we just went to bops or house parties or any other usual thing. Sure there were rich people at Oxford, but there were certainly a lot of normal people. And universities like Bristol or Exeter are probably richer than Oxbridge.

GrendelsMum Tue 12-Mar-13 16:50:34

Gosh, that sounds fantastic!

I'm afraid it was quite a lot posher than any of the balls I ever went to at Cambridge.

LittleBearPad Tue 12-Mar-13 11:06:33

Um. It does sound as though the uni ball you went to was pretty different to the norm though.

funnyperson Tue 12-Mar-13 03:25:10

I think balls should be in the student's budget plan-probably at least £250 per year to include dress, when setting the yearly budget.

I think its ok to talk about clothes or even go shopping with one's daughter- it is one of the joys of having a (pretty) daughter. Of course what happens in reality is she gets given the money and gets on with it and I might see a photo if I'm lucky.

Anyway this thread is too intense, and doesn't reflect reality, though it has been lovely hearing about other people's memories and experience, smile and some great advice.

funnyperson Tue 12-Mar-13 02:55:03

The college disco with the rugby club getting drunk doesn't cut it or compare in my opinion.
My own university ball/dinner was at the Savoy and I still remember the moment 50 butlers came in, each with the flambe baked alaska , the flames of which were mirrored round the room. It was magical and very unlike the rather grim drunk stuff in college which I avoided after freshers week.

TheGoodOldDays Mon 11-Mar-13 00:29:17

Aah, Exeter sweaty bops, those were the days!
OP I flabbergasted at how involved you are - perhaps your dd should choose her own outfit and decide which balls she can afford? She's managed to get into Oxford so I'm sure she's capable of doing a bit of shopping for herself.
I only went to my own college ball, which was held each year and I'm sure she'll survive without going to 5. No networking went on at them either; far better to talk to people at tutorials or in the library or at the kebab van on Broad Street

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.

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

Thank you BrummieMummie smile

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

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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