Dress guide to Oxford balls

Kate Asquith offers suggestions on what to wear for the balls in Trinity 2016

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The scene plays out on a summer evening; live music electrifies the senses as couples sway back and forth in the dusky light. It’s a vision anyone would dream to be part of, and as an Oxford University student, one that can be realised. Although we are halfway through Trinity and have already experienced some amazing college balls, there are still plenty lined up for the final week of term. If you are lucky enough to be attending, you are guaranteed a night to remember and, to really complete the evening, you need a dress to match. Here are some recommendations to help you stand out from the crowd.

Queen’s ‘A Night on the Orient Express’ is set to be a truly lavish event, promising to “take you to your dream destination”, so your dress should similarly transport you to fantasy lands. Think metropolitan London, with sharp, clean lines contrasted by smoky eyes, or the Parisian-inspired deep rouges and corseted bodices of the neo burlesque. The ultimate globe-trotter may channel Middle Eastern belly-dancing with a glamourous co-ord crop top and long skirt look, or play upon the idea of the Venetian mask with overstated, stylised make-up.

Alternatively, look no further than this year’s MET Gala when attending University College’s ‘Interstellar’ Ball. Be adventurous with your outfit as you explore the “UNIVerse of unlimited possibilities”. Space-age silver may be clichéd, so why not try holographic or metallic fabrics that appear different colours in different lights? Mirror the depths of space with full skirts and graphic colour play, adding volume and drama, while the most creative of you may be influenced by the Roman goddess Venus who lends her name to the brightest planet in the night sky, by possessing her hot beauty and classical grace.

Wadham’s fresh and edgy reinvention of ‘Wonderland’ guarantees “a neon and electric futuristic” vibe. Therefore, be daring in your choices – long slits, cut outs and mesh panelling are the guests of honour, with splashes of bright colours to complete the look. A feminine or androgynous tailored suit harkens back to the novel’s Victorian background, but also puts a new spin on ball attire. Then, steal the make-up trend of the 2016 s/s runways with electric blue eyeliner to be an up-dated Alice, or make the Mad Hatter proud with fascinators and daring millinery. Glitter and coloured hair will not go amiss for the bravest attendees.

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In comparison, Magdalen’s ‘1926’ Commemoration Ball’s dress code appears fairly strict, dictating “a full length evening dress”, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with the theme. Play up Art Deco geometry and Bauhaus structuralism for bold, stand-out looks, or take a leaf out of Greta Garbo’s very fashionable book with stunning simplicity and soft-edged romanticism to pay tribute to her 1926 film debut in ‘Torrent’. Vintage and retro dresses will be prevalent at this event, so look for lace, silk and velvet textures. A trip to your local charity shop will enhance the authenticity of true glamour.

Equally guide-lined, New College’s Ball intends to honour the Oxonians “at the centre of scientific innovation throughout history”. Nobel prize-winner, Dorothy Hodgkin, was famous for her work with crystallography, so, like her, focus on the small details of structure and shape for subtle intricacies. Otherwise, follow the lead of the university’s current Visiting Professor of Astrophysics, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, with cosmological accessories or a dash of shimmer eye-shadow. Alternatively, turn to the late Anne McLaren, a biologist who was essential in developing in vitro fertilisation and cloning, with the repetition of duplicated, identical motifs.

Whichever ball you attend, don’t be afraid to show off your style, even if your only catwalk is the line for the champagne.