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Sunday, July 3, 2022

The Afterlife of a Ballgown

Madi Hopper on how to give your Oxford ball season a sustainable finish.

Balls! After two years of cancellations, postponements, and miscellaneous Covid-related havoc, ‘tis once more the season to dress up, dance the night away, and take the pictures your parents will love nearly as much as your matriculation shots. Obviously, the right outfit is essential – and finding one is easier than it has ever been. The shift in perspective within the last few years has been such that most ball committees now have some iteration of an Eco Rep – someone to try to minimise the negative environmental impact. Something they don’t have control over – and perhaps one of the most ecologically questionable aspects of a ball – is the outfits. The double-edged sword of suits is that, whilst having far less scope for creative expression than a gown (although, I am begging anyone planning on wearing one to try and think a little outside the black-and-white box), this makes them essentially re-wearable. The afterlife of a ballgown, though, is a bit trickier – so, because ball fashion itself is more diverse than it has ever been, and you ought not to buy a ball outfit based on sweeping generalisations – here is some advice on being a sustainably attired baller. More than pretty much anything else you might buy, a ballgown represents an odd intersection of disposability. It’s one of those things that is probably founded on a traditional assumption that if you were At Oxford, you’d most likely be able to afford a new gown for any such event, and likely also to dispose of it as soon as it had served its purpose. Finally, it’s also good to remember the entire life-cycle of the ballgown – so if possible, it’s good to start at the opposite end – by buying yours (if possible) second hand in the first place. Then, you can be entirely sure you aren’t putting money into the pockets of fast fashion companies (because, let’s face it, unless you are miraculously lucky enough to afford borderline bespoke, that’s what it likely will be), your dress will be somewhat unique, and you’ll be saving yourself money – wins all round. I know that the urge (if you can afford to indulge it) to buy a spanking-new outfit for The Big Oxford Ball is a powerful one – but, at the end of the day, is it really worth it for what is most likely a one-night outfit? Whilst it’s likely that if you bought it new, it was probably expensive enough for you to want to keep it around, The Ballgown is a garment you’re probably unlikely to consider re-wearing. Personally, I’m a big advocate for wearing what you want when you want (who’s stopping you from wearing it to your next formal hall?) – but that isn’t for everyone. But never fear – there are plenty of solutions. To assuage your one-and-done guilt, you might get on a site like Oxford’s very own ‘Let’s All Share Our Clothes’ Facebook group (I do hope you don’t need me to tell you what it does). Formal or ball-type dresses are one of the most common requests on there, and it can be a nice way to give your dress another lease of life, especially if you’re a finalist or otherwise unable to get out much. If you’re looking for a more direct return on your investment, you can, of course, sell the thing – sites like eBay and Vinted do an absolutely roaring trade in prom/ball dresses, precisely because of their mayfly lifespan. You might not make as much as you paid in the first place, but it’s another way of getting those warm environmentalist fuzzies – as well as a few quid for yourself. As life gradually creeps back towards a new normality, it’s important that we apply the environmental consciousness gained over hours of lockdown doomscrolling in all areas of our lives – and balls are an excellent place to start.

Image Credit: rawpixel.com / CC0 1.0 via Rawpixel

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