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.

BlueyDragon Sun 17-Feb-13 04:24:52

Why would you go to five plus the Law Soc one? Go to your own college's, much the best fun. FWIW, the prices don't seem to have gone up much from when I was there nearly 2 decades ago. There are loads of expensive balls run outside Oxford and you should see the cost of dining in order to qualify as a barrister if you want to attend the Grand Nights instead of Sunday lunch.

What's your point, OP?

BlueyDragon Sun 17-Feb-13 04:26:15

It certainly wasn't the rich dancing with the rich in my experience. But we didn't go to five balls a year.

LadyWidmerpool Sun 17-Feb-13 04:26:27

Well how do you think they should be paid for then? Balls are very expensive to put on.

funnyperson Sun 17-Feb-13 04:29:28

Qualifying as a barrister sounds expensive too. Well I would have thought it might be fun to go to such events with titles as 'Cirque du Soleil' or 'the forbidden palace' or the lawsoc or Oxford union balls with friends =the websites of the balls look interesting. But it is fun out of the pocket of our family and you can scorn all you like but tis so.

funnyperson Sun 17-Feb-13 04:31:55

Well they seem to be put on with sponsorship and I think some of the sponsor ship should be used to bring down prices, if necessary to have less elaborate balls so that 'poorer' students can go if they want

BlueyDragon Sun 17-Feb-13 04:42:00

I'm not scorning, yes all the balls do look appealing and it would be great fun to go. But if you can't afford it you can't afford it and that's it, surely? Even amongst those at my college who I'm assuming you'd class as rich (public school), they weren't going to five balls a year. Go to one on a cheap ticket and enjoy it.

The sponsorship does bring the cost down, but not enough. If the ball committee makes a loss they can get sent down (college's debt, I believe). There's no reason to overprice because you want to sell enough tickets to break even. Big name bands, flashy websites, the latest party games are all expensive.

Is it you or a family member who's in this dilemma?

funnyperson Sun 17-Feb-13 04:45:16

Who wouldn't want to go to these?
I think its true though that students seem to go to their own college ball mainly. I should add that otherwise Oxford is the most wonderful place. I am bound to be put down I suppose for daring to speak up about the cost of balls though.

funnyperson Sun 17-Feb-13 04:47:10

Its me in the dilemma, as a parent. My lovely child scorns the idea of wanting to go to any other ball than the college one but I think thats because she knows that she and I cant afford it and it makes me feel sad.

BlueyDragon Sun 17-Feb-13 04:50:01

Who's putting you down, OP? I agree they are expensive. Cheaper would be great. But running these things costs money and, like I said, if you can't afford to go to five then you don't go to five. I'd like the entire contents of my nearest Ducati showroom, but I can't afford it so I won't be having it.

I bet the website for the college you/your family member is at looks just as good.

BlueyDragon Sun 17-Feb-13 04:57:23

Congratulations to your DD for getting to Oxford, tis a marvellous place despite the ball costs. She won't lose out by not going to all these balls, honestly she won't. There's much much more to the place than that.

Also if she's in her first year the balls can clash with prelims (unless she's doing law in which case mods are done and next term or year and a half in my case is party season).

It can all feel unfair and that everyone else can afford things you can't, but actually most are in the same boat.

If your DD is looking at the legal profession, PM me and I'll happily help if she's got any questions.

funnyperson Sun 17-Feb-13 05:00:31

Dear Bluey you are right. There are lots of things in life which one would like but cannot necessarily afford or one chooses to do something else with the money. Thanks for answering though, you helped me feel better. I Will pm you if Law is being considered. thanks

BlueyDragon Sun 17-Feb-13 05:09:01

Pleased to have helped! Tell your DD I'm very jealous she's there, I had 3 wonderful years there and made lifelong friends. I have to admit it also opens doors like nowhere else well, except maybe the place in the Fens and a couple of others.

boomting Sun 17-Feb-13 14:02:30

I'm on full student finance, because I'm from a low income family. I'm not at Oxford, but having looked at the bursaries Oxford offers for those from a similar background, they are more than £2000 per year better off than me. Even on my current student finance, I could afford to go to a couple of balls a year at those prices... if I had the Oxford bursary offered, I genuinely could afford to go to the five balls you refer to.

Yes, they are. They are also not compulsory!

Why not go to one of the zillion-and-one alternative parties instead? Or just sit in the park and watch the fireworks with a bottle of cheap plonk instead.

Btw, I live in Oxford and I went to Cambridge, so I've been in one or other place for the best part of ten years, and I have never met or heard of anyone going to 5 balls. I'm sure such people exist but I think you've got the wrong end of the stick if you think that is the norm!

motherinferior Sun 17-Feb-13 15:26:41

I am proud to say that not only did I never attend a single ball, I never knew when Eights Week was eeither.

PatriciaHolm Sun 17-Feb-13 15:28:44

When I was at Oxford, we went to one ball a year - I don't think anyone went to 5!! If your college didn't have one (colleges often ran them every 3 years) you just picked a good one and went on mass. They don't raise a lot of money, even when sponsored.

Helspopje Sun 17-Feb-13 15:35:13

I only ever went to one a year. If nothing else most are in the same week and trying going to them on consecutive nights would be ridiculous!

The 'cheap' way of doing it is to offer to work at one. you do half the ball glass collecting or similar and get a free ticket for the other half. The real ball aficionados (who tended to look like the living dead by the end of May ball week) in my college did this.

ThePavlovianCat Sun 17-Feb-13 15:39:42

Where do you think the money for the balls goes? If they are cheaper then there will be less stuff to do at them and they'll be less fun. Also, most students would go to one or two balls a year max. Your daughter will be studying there for more than one year I assume so she can try different balls different years if she wants.

Listen to your daughter, she's the one at Oxford. Don't try to decide what she wants to do for her. She's the one there, knows what's on offer and what everyone else is doing (which isn't going to 5 balls a year!)

DolomitesDonkey Sun 17-Feb-13 15:51:30

How is this news? I couldn't afford to attend my uni balls in the 90s with all the expenses it entails.

FloatyBeatie Sun 17-Feb-13 15:56:54

I didn't go to a single ball at Oxford. They were an irrelevance. It didn't disadvantage me any more than not being able to eat out in expensive restaurants disadvantaged me. They aren't what Oxford is about for most students.

MoreBeta Sun 17-Feb-13 16:00:55

I was at Oxford and I dont know anyone who went to 5 balls a year. I went to about 3 in total and frankly I dont think it mattered a jot.

I'll go one better, MI, I don't know what eights week is. Rowing? Not the same thing as eighth week (as in, a couple of weeks time).

Now if the OP wanted to campaign for simplifying the jargon I'd be right behind her.

mateysmum Sun 17-Feb-13 16:09:01

Went to 1 ball in 3 years and that was about average I think. 5 in 1 year would be unheard of so I think you are worrying unnecessarily. No way are these rich dancing with the rich or discriminatory - anyone can buy a ticket and many girls get taken there by their boyfriends.

Caitycat Sun 17-Feb-13 16:09:51

I also know noone who went to five balls in one year. Many people only went to their own college's (as someone has already said generally every three years) in the whole time they were there. I enjoyed them so went to one every year but this was v extravagant. If I had wanted to go to five a year I don't think I'd have been able to persuade anyone to join me!

Are you my old history teacher, mateys? She told us with a straight face that if we went to Oxbridge we'd meet lovely rich boyfriends. I found it extremely difficult not to take the piss then and I would definitely do it now.

LynetteScavo Sun 17-Feb-13 16:11:45

Yes, they are expensive.

Yes, they sound fun.

But if you can't afford them, you can't go.

Just as if you can't afford £3 for the school disco, it's sad.

Tis life.

Obviously a sufficient amount of people can afford to go the balls, or they would cease to be held.

Roseformeplease Sun 17-Feb-13 16:14:27

I managed a second ball at Cambridge (in addition to my own college's which I organised) and went as bar staff. It was brilliant. We worked one hour on, one hour off, had a great laugh and met loads more people. Everyone working was a student from another college and we were all there as it was one way of affording it.

Who on earth goes to five balls? When I was there you went to at most one a year. I paid for one ball, crashed one ball and paid for one college event (similar to a ball, but bit smaller scale and cheaper). I didn't notice people doing much else.

Most black tie do's were about £5 which included a lot of alcohol (about £15/£20 in today's money?)

Lostonthemoors Sun 17-Feb-13 16:16:54

Went to 2 in my whole time on the fens! Most people just go to the college ones and even the most jet set in my year never went to more than 2 a year!

I bought my own ticket once and was given the ticket the second time smile

Startail Sun 17-Feb-13 16:20:21

Double Cambridge ball tickets were £100, 22 years ago.

My RG university balls weren't a lot less.

Taking inflation into account and the fact that ball dresses and dinner suits are also exactly the same price, again with no correction for inflation, I think in real terms they are now cheaper!

motherinferior Sun 17-Feb-13 16:22:42

The other thing: it's your adult daughter's decision here! Really, whether or not she goes to a ball is nothing to do with you. My parents had no input into my social, political or academic life at Oxford - nor did anyone else's.

Very true MI.

Startail Sun 17-Feb-13 16:27:12

And you went to less than one a year averaged over your student time.
I went to two RG and Cambridge one, Mum made me one dress and I made my other, I wore my interview shoes.

mateysmum Sun 17-Feb-13 16:28:03

HI LRD - no I'm not your old teacher though I did do history!!

It is true though there are plenty of well of chaps there. I went to the Christchurch Commem Ball with my cousin who was at Oxford at the same time - fun but not romantic. and Gary Glitter was the lead act - that shows how long ago it was!

I only ever went to my own college ones, and I think that was pretty standard.
I have friends who went to multiple balls by performing in choirs/bands and getting free tickets that way, or by doing coat-check duty etc for a few hours during the night.
I don't think I know anyone who went to more than 2 in a year and paid for their own tickets.
The elitest drinking societies used to bother me far more in terms of closed social networking (girls only invited if pretty/went to right school etc)

To be honest if my mother had suggested I should be going to random balls I would have thought she'd lost the plot.

Startail Sun 17-Feb-13 16:30:59

My lovely flat mate did a deal with her sister to have royal blue lacy brides maids dresses rather than pastel frilly ones, specifically so she could reuse it for the graduation ball.

Ah, shame.

I am not sure what I would have thought to targeting well-off blokes for a ball ticket, but fortunately the one I met was penniless anyway. grin

I agree with twelve that other Oxfordy things are more of an issue.

motherinferior Sun 17-Feb-13 16:32:35

Tbh I found the whole 'ball' ethos pretty repellent. I had a pretty good time at Oxford (and managed a perfectly creditable degree) but my social life mostly consisted of too much alcohol and too many spliffs consumed while Objecting To Things.

Sounds perfect. smile

It looks as if this is the case for most students still. Where we live, they're constantly having house parties or going onto Port Meadow with a load of booze and barbeque stuff, or going clubbing in boring clubs. I would think balls are a tiny, tiny, tiny part of anyone's social life.

MMMarmite Sun 17-Feb-13 16:45:19

I went to Oxford and went to one ball, my college one. Some went to none, I never knew anyone who went to five a year! There are plenty of other social events; of course they look great on the website, doesn't mean everyone's going to go. They're essentially a commercial event, they cost what they cost, if you try to make them much cheaper then they won't really have any elements of a ball.

Also there are ways of going cheaper if you're madly keen on balls, like join the organising committee, or work a shift serving drinks there, or be part of a band or comedy group that's performing.

funnyperson Sun 17-Feb-13 16:46:04

All very reassuring. Sounds as though DD is normal. Just me who is a bit weird then.

Ah, don't worry about it, you just want her to have a good time! But I bet she is, I don't think she is just saying so to make you stop worrying.

givemeaclue Sun 17-Feb-13 16:51:28

Nobody expects to go to 5 balls a year!
Get real, one is plenty!

Arcticwaffle Sun 17-Feb-13 18:02:35

I also never went to a ball at Oxford. Most friends went to one or two. It really wasn't my thing. I still don't like black tie events. I never went to formal dinners or formal hall or whatever it was called (it's been a while now) either. Or to the Union.

There are lots of other ways of socialising. And of drinking more cheaply. I used to spend all my spare money on travelling in the long vacs.

I did know when eights week was, I even took part in it once. In the lowly 4th eight. For the very casual uncommitted rowers.

Trills Sun 17-Feb-13 18:06:38

Given that the balls are the main college social events this is sad

It's one night. Your idea of 5 balls is insane. Please stop thinking about it and let the person who is actually at the university decide what is normal and what is desirable and what is affordable (and decide whether the three all match up)

IME the main college social events throughout the year are very cheap, certainly the dinners were cheaper than going out to dinner in a restaurant and the disco-type-things were a lot cheaper than entry to and buying drinks in a club.

"the disco-type-things"

Go on, the word you are trying desperately to avoi using.... 'bop'

exexpat Sun 17-Feb-13 18:41:49

Going to five balls a year sounds very unusual. Most people go to one a year, perhaps only one during their time at university. Yes, they are expensive, but they are special occasions which cost huge amounts of money to put on.

They are, however, considerably cheaper than going to most weekend music festivals (Glastonbury costs more than £200 these days, I think, and of course that doesn't include food and drink, which a ball ticket does), which is something lots of people the same age (late teens/early 20s) do, and no one seems to complain about them being socially exclusive. People save up for them and they are a big thing.

Trills Sun 17-Feb-13 18:58:09

I know it's bop, but I didn't know if everyone reading would know.

Trills Very sensible. smile It sounded like you were trying to blot out the word and all associated memories of sweaty poor-taste snog-fests with boys inexplicably dressed in togas!!

Lostonthemoors Sun 17-Feb-13 20:34:43

I'd forgotten about bops...

Bops; where the sweat condensed on the ceiling. Boak.

MoreBeta Sun 17-Feb-13 20:48:10

DW and I recall the infamous 'Exeter sweaty bops' much more often than any ball we ever went to?

Only one fire exit in a basement with 100% humidity and 200 hormone and alcohol fueled students. It was a health and safety hazard in all respects.


MariscallRoad Mon 18-Feb-13 00:28:58

DS College at Oxford had a ball every 2 years. Ticket was 80 - 120 and the low end price was for College members.

louisianablue2000 Mon 18-Feb-13 00:42:03

Was just thinking 'who goes to more than one ball a year?' then remembered that I did but it was to the graduate college balls that cost significantly less. I never went to a 'posh' Oxford one but we did go to a very fancy one in Cambridge on year, my flatmate's sister was at my DH's old college so we had a house trip for its 400th anniversary ball. It was amazing.

So, one ball is more than sufficient for an entire Oxbridge career if you ask me.

exexpat Mon 18-Feb-13 01:44:32

I did actually go to three one year, but only paid for one: one of the others I worked at, and the other was a last-minute invite from someone whose date had dropped out. But it certainly wasn't the norm then, and I'm sure isn't now.

I think the OP has got a rather distorted idea of Oxbridge social life - if her daughter says she just wants to go to her college's ball, that sounds perfectly normal to me.

BlueyDragon Mon 18-Feb-13 06:01:32

I'm not surprised if there's a distorted view of the Oxford social life out there, given that the media coverage is hooked on the Bullingdon Club and other teeny tiny cliques that I wasn't even aware of when I was there. And which still don't matter now. As has been said frequently up thread, there's so much else to the place. Like Eights Week grin.

I wonder how many people really do get put off by the jargon and the assumptions and the dress code?

RichManPoorManBeggarmanThief Mon 18-Feb-13 06:14:02

funny I went to the other place (some 20 years ago) and then it was totally normal to go to your own college ball and no others. Many colleges also alternated years between organising a ball and organising an "event" (which was a lot cheaper. Very few people went to more than one. Quite a few people didnt go to any. Personally, I think the balls were ok, but they're not up there with the best nights I had at Uni. They are definitely not the social main event.

Mendi Mon 18-Feb-13 06:33:23

I was at Cambridge and graduated over ten years ago. While there I only went to one college ball and the tickets were £80 a piece THEN. Then you had to kit yourself out for it too (white tie). It was something we saved up for for ages and it was an amazing night. Definitely more than worth the money and better, actually, than any similar event I've been to since. My mum bought my dress and I got the ticket and shoes.

All other nights out were student nights at Cindy's or college bops. No one has to go to a ball and I don't think you'd be missing out if you didn't, but they are a great experience if you can. Like lots of things.

RichManPoorManBeggarmanThief Mon 18-Feb-13 13:16:28

OMG- forgot about Cindy's. Was Route 66 still there? That was a real dive that was never really open except for private parties.

TunipTheVegedude Mon 18-Feb-13 13:22:31

What about crashing balls? Do people still do that or do they implant you with a microchip to show you've paid these days?

stealthsquiggle Mon 18-Feb-13 13:27:42

I should imagine they do (microchip you) - crashing was pretty hard work even in the age of the dinosaurs my day (not that I ever bothered)

OP - listen to your DD! Unless your boy/girlfriend is at another college, it is entirely normal to only go to your own college ball. I only went to one (my own) in 4 years, and I definitely wasn't alone in that.

stealthsquiggle Mon 18-Feb-13 13:31:32

Exeter sweaty bops (and Hertford ones) - now there is the stuff of which real memories are made mostly of not standing still for too long or you would stick to the floor, and not thinking too hard about what was dripping off the ceiling grin

I crashed corpus really easily. We met a band playing outside, offered to carry some instruments and walked straight in (past some very pissed students manning the entrance).

TunipTheVegedude Mon 18-Feb-13 13:42:53

My brother crashed a ball in the 90s carrying a box.
I'm not sure what dh's technique was. Definitely the 'sneaking in with equipment' technique seemed to have a higher success rate than the 'polevaulting over the perimeter fence in black tie/swimming across the river having previously hidden your formal outfit under a bush' type thing.

drwitch Mon 18-Feb-13 13:44:44

yup they are expensive and discriminatory, in my day (sits back on rocking chair and puffs pipe) the "sounder" (=p.c. for you whippersnappers) jcrs used to insist on having events instead

GooseyLoosey Mon 18-Feb-13 13:48:49

I went to my own college's ball which was held every 3 years, so I went to 1 in total. It never occured to me to go to more. Most of my friends didn't go to more either. It was a huge occassion and much looked forward to.

Of course they look like great events, but then dining at La Gavroche every day looks great too but I can't afford that either.

You cut your cloth according to your means. It is not discriminatory that some people have more money than you do.

wordfactory Mon 18-Feb-13 13:57:21

I went to a fair few balls, but this was because my then-boyfriend and I were DJs. Good times.

Most people went to one a year, maybe two.

I hope your mind is put to rest, OP. Personally, I think it's lovely that you're still concerned for your DD. And I'm sure you're no talone in thinking Oxbridge students are all wealthy socialites, and your own DC is out on a limb.

wordfactory Mon 18-Feb-13 13:58:54

Oh and Exeter bops! The only place on earth where one gratefully guzzled Newcastle Brown to prevent dehydration!

Going to 2 or 3 balls a year is only the norm here in Cambridge for those who are working at them/have friends who have organised one/are in the choir etc.

I don't think I know anybody that has paid for more than one.

It's also worth bearing in mind that they hype and reality don't always match, and they are all a bit same-y.

A good ball is more about who you're with than which college you happen to be at/what the theme is (same as any other night out IME).

notcitrus Mon 18-Feb-13 14:48:15

Most people went to their own college ball once or twice, and any others they could blag their way into - I did massage and went to about 50 over 6 years.

My college was one.of the few to do a ball every year but at least half the people there would be working for a shift, so getting in free. Many of the paying guests were alumni, not students.

How does the pricing compare with say the FA Cup Final?

PatriciaHolm Mon 18-Feb-13 21:17:55

I am having flashbacks to sweaty bops now. How can that have ever been fun?!! [wanders off to marvel at what 18 year olds will get up to in the name of a good night out...]

funnyperson Tue 19-Feb-13 16:02:48

Great discussion and feedback: what a range of replies though- between 2 and 50 balls in 6 years ! Thank you all! flowers

funnyperson Tue 19-Feb-13 16:06:07

Dare I ask- where did you ladies get your ball gowns from? How to achieve a look which is totally the biz and up here with the best, without looking a) middle aged b) out of date c) underdressed d) overdressed ????

exexpat Tue 19-Feb-13 16:37:04

My favourite one (25 years ago) came from Oxfam - long black velvet 1930s evening dress, very elegant, cost about £15 as far as I remember. No idea what people do these days, but I'd suggest your daughter discusses it with any friends of hers who are also going.

Some people in my day (late 80s) wore hugely expensive puffy ball gowns from London designers, but that wasn't my style or my budget. My friends and I were much more Oxfam/borrow your mum's or granny's old one/make something yourself out of curtain material types. I expect vintage style may still be popular. A lot of borrowing went on, too, if you had a friend going to a ball on a different night - I think the 24-hour dry cleaning services did good business in May week.

stealthsquiggle Tue 19-Feb-13 16:39:12

funnyperson - for some reason there was a bit of a phase of making otherwise innocuous events "black tie" when I was at college - so even though we didn't go to many balls, house parties combined with boat club dinners and the like meant there were quite a lot of occasions needing dresses. We had 2 approaches:

1. A fabulous secondhand/vintage shop in Little Clarendon Street which is sadly no longer there

2. Sharing. Every dress I owned went to events with at least 4 other people over it's time with me. "Black tie" dresses were a pooled resource as far as we were concerned.

I would imagine vintage from ebay is quite a popular option nowadays?

stealthsquiggle Tue 19-Feb-13 16:44:32

x-post with exexpat there grin

My absolute favourite was actually bought for my sixth form dance - circa 1950, low low back (an underwear challenge) and about 2 full circles of fabric in the floor length skirt. It was utterly gorgeous, completely different from anything being sold at the time (same era as exexpat) and I wish I knew where it was, as I am sure it would now be worth a damned sight more than the £50 I paid for it at the time. There were almost fights over who got to wear that one.

funnyperson Tue 19-Feb-13 16:48:20


There's a decent second-hand/cheapie dress shop on the Plain, just off Cowley Road. There is also still a second-hand shop on Little Clarendon, though presumably not the same one. There's also a good shop in the market.

stealthsquiggle Tue 19-Feb-13 16:55:12

Black, with a white trim around the neck/back. It was beautifully understated.

I loved that dress blush

That does sound gorgeous.

I had a black and white polka-dot dress with a net underskirt and a halter neck I wore to mine. I loved it and I still have it but it would these days be slightly more full-on since I no longer have the B cups I did back then. It was 29.99 from Topshop. Very extravegant.

stealthsquiggle Tue 19-Feb-13 17:10:34

LRD I owned that dress too (or something remarkably like it, which came from topshop)shock. The edges of the net shredded my tights the first time I wore it, so I spent hours hand-sewing bias binding around the bottom edge of the net. I wore it once to a 21st birthday of a very well-off friend's sister. Everyone else there seemed to have gone to Harvey Nicks for their dresses, but there was another girl in a dress identical to mine, so there was lots of "oooh, where did you get it?" - we both declined to comment grin

Oh, wow! We obviously have the same taste. But I wore it with fishnets, so no fraying.

I do love cheapie dresses in a room full of posh ones. I keep fancying a Vivien of Holloway replacement, too.

I've got to say, one of the things I love about living where I live is I get to see students dressing up and doing all their stuff and it is very sweet, really.

(She says, patronizingly. blush grin)

Caitycat Tue 19-Feb-13 18:22:40

I really think your daughter is better placed than any of us to know what to wear and where to get it. Her friends will chat amongst themselves about what they will wear and can shop together and find the right look. Don't worry about it, I'm sure that between a few shopping trips and a thorough online search she'll find something perfect - it's part of the fun!

stealthsquiggle Tue 19-Feb-13 18:30:05

Very true, CaityCat - I was just having fun wallowing in nostalgia. My DM was certainly not involved in any dress decisions of mine.

notcitrus Tue 19-Feb-13 23:19:16

I got a velvet dress from Laura Ashley back in the day, in a sale
It proved to be a great choice being red wine coloured, so showed up no stains, and was nearly floor length so I used to wear it with Doc Martens boots and no-one noticed, except once when a woman pointed and said "What a * great idea!"
And machine washable. smile

Wore a male friend's black tie for some of them, too.

I think the Oxford ball I did that had Boney M was one of my favourites.

SCOTCHandWRY Wed 20-Feb-13 15:51:49

For formal events - tk maxx is your friend!

Copthallresident Wed 20-Feb-13 18:40:30

My ballgown was Celia Birtwell, in the sale and must have been some sort of poor person's line, bought in the horrible new Arndale arcade in a small northern town grin but it was absolutely gorgeous, made me look like Great Garbo (if you didn't look above the neck) and I wore it to rags, not because I went to so many balls but because it went on for a decade. Mum had quite a collection and had it valued recently shock...especially the fur coat shock shock

Balls are now an issue at all unis, and it is a decision they make based on their financial priorities. £100 on a ticket or pissed against the wall, or ask Mummy blush but they all seem to have themes, DD took the dressing up box off to uni with her rather than a wardrobe of designer frocks

libelulle Wed 20-Feb-13 18:44:14

I don't know ANYONE who ever went to 5 balls, except if they were playing at them at got free tickets. And actually I'm amazed how little the prices have gone up in nearly 20 (arg!!!) years.

Yellowtip Wed 20-Feb-13 22:30:42

It's up to £170 for a single ticket libelulle but five a year paying for yourself would be very, very unusual. Kit doesn't seem to need to be expensive at all. If buying vintage on ebay just don't make the mistake of buying from anywhere abroad which will incur customs fees. Big mistake. Especially if you then loathe the thing and want to send it back.

Yellowtip Wed 20-Feb-13 22:45:02

Funny mine have all rejected a seriously beautiful original vintage (1985) Caroline Charles dress of mine - 1920's style flapper, Italian silk, bought from CC herself in a previous life (mine, not hers) - in favour of tat. Some balls need floor length was one excuse. Anything which looks good is fine, no-one will be looking at labels.

TheCollieDog Thu 21-Feb-13 13:55:42

But it is fun out of the pocket of our family

I don't understand this: are you saying that your family subsidises the people you see as "rich" going to the May balls, when your DC cannot? How?

funnyperson Thu 21-Feb-13 19:24:35

Collie I was saying we couldn't afford all the balls, in a somewhat badly put sentence. I was worried that the richer students would be going and so having more fun. But the thread has been very helpful so I'm a lot less worried (not worried at all any more in fact).

Your gown sounds lovely, yellowtip
The customs advice comes too late. Before DD started at Oxford I had this completely misguided notion that she must go up with a ball gown 'just in case' (I suppose I was brought up with the idea from my mother that a young lady should always have something nice to wear for an unexpected special occasion).
Anyway we settled on a brightly coloured floor length silk chiffon gown made to measure by a company in China, which, when it arrived, was really OTT and turned out to have a seriously embarrassing train- which had to be cut off and re hemmed at home- and the upper bodice didn't fit and practically had to be re-sewn: as it was when it arrived it was totally unsuitable for an 18 year old in this century! And to crown it all, the customs bill arrived a week or so later and the reasonably priced gown didn't seem so reasonably priced any more. It was a fedex bill btw and it took a while for the penny to drop that it was a customs bill.

The feminist group at college appear to be organising a gown swap.

I am planning a trip to potter round Harvey Nics (for design ideas) and the fabric dept at John Lewis, just for interest and not serious at this stage, though if anyone has suitable provenly successful ball gown dress patterns please pm me.

Yellowtip Thu 21-Feb-13 20:30:57

Oh dear funny, sorry I was too late sad Yes, DD2 and DD3 have both been stung by the waspish customs bills because they both bought vintage from the US. DD2's overseas vintage failed to arrive on the eve of the ball last June, or rather it had been sent to the wrong sorting office up in Summertown, not Cowley, where the postmen were scratching their heads. I intervened on the grounds that DD2 is an airhead, got to the bottom of the mystery of the missing parcel, and there ensued a mad dash by DD1 and DD2 to the Summertown sorting office (all three went to this particular ball). Naturally, having liberated the large parcel from Summertown, DD2 tried it on in DD1's room only to find she hated it. Meanwhile, the other side of town, DD3, having paid an extortionate amount for customs for a beautiful vintage Ralph Lauren which she had bought months ahead and which fitted her perfectly and was just completely right, rejected it in favour of some other thing which had caught her eye on the High St. and which brought her to the brink of her overdraft, saying she'd ebay the Ralph Lauren (which she still hasn't done).

I completely love the idea of a train grin.

funnyperson Thu 21-Feb-13 20:41:41

Haha yes the train was superb: I had a moment of feeling sorry DD wasn't about to step out as first lady in front of millions, however it soon passed when I saw her look of horror!
So what did DD1 wear? And did they have a wonderful time?

Copthallresident Thu 21-Feb-13 20:58:42

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Yellowtip Thu 21-Feb-13 21:00:22

DD1 borrowed and looked great (I was shown the fb pictures). She's the one with her head screwed on, sartorially speaking (same college as your DD of course smile). I think it was good. I think DD3 may have been nursing quite a headache the next day judging by the mutually corroborative reports of DDs 1 and 2....

Is this an in-house one your DD is going to funny? She missed the 400th anniversary one, just.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 Thu 14-Mar-13 19:00:34

London. In the golden age of course. grin

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now