Summer Style: Ball Dresses and Bad Weather

Miranda Kerr at the Style Awards 2012, by Eva Rinaldi from Sydney, Australia

So the end of exams is here, if it has not hit you already, and nearly every student in Durham is gearing up for three glorious weeks of sublime academic freedom. While this new-found liberating time is fantastical to behold, it does carry with it the new, and thankfully far more frivolous, considerations of outfits that you will inevitably require for various college events that sweep down to delight freshers and finalists alike. So for my last entry this year in the fashion seasonal game, it’s time to consider what to wear to those more ostentatious events that Durham thinks it’s rather good at pulling off.

First up for consideration is the ball dress. For many colleges, the biggest upmarket summer bash, after Christmas events and PGNs, will fall after exams and that means dressing to match. While I suspect that men will invariably have far less of a struggle on their hands (being able to wear the same formal outfit to EVERY event without comment), it is worth it for everyone to take a little time to look well turned out and groomed – especially after the exam-season regression into the same pair of jeans and t-shirt completed with un-combed hair.

In terms of dresses, Durham places its population in the rather unique position of attending a summer ball with no guarantee that the weather will in fact reflect the season. Wind, rain, and thunderstorms are not generally considered conducive to maintaining precision-styled hair and perfectly pressed outfits. Dresses for black-tie events themselves also feel like a bit of a minefield. Personally I have managed to successfully ‘recycle’ previous posh outfits keeping the costs down a little (which, when added to the ticket costs can be something nearing extortionate). But this year, as a finalist, I felt the time was ripe for something new and exciting. With the popularity of shows like Game of Thrones, this season has also seen the rise of similarly inspired fashion. From floaty dresses to intricate beading the influence of the show seems to be endless. But this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Teaming an edgy necklace with a softer dress can give a new element to any look, with the added benefit of having a passing resemblance to Emilia Clarke.

Nonetheless, it’s worth checking the availability of dresses in charity shops, eBay and ASOS marketplace before splurging on an overpriced ‘label.’ It’s made more worthwhile knowing that no-one else will be turning up wearing the same thing. If you’re any good with a needle and thread, simple dress alterations and customisation can mean that what you wear is totally unique.

On top of the dress conundrum in terms of colour, length, style and cut is the fact that dresses generally are not known for their insulating properties and in the face of Durham’s wind-chill factors we have a problem on our hands. But there are many solutions at hand! Not least after finishing off the provisions at two drinks receptions and wine at a meal. The options, beyond simply stealing a dinner jacket off an unsuspecting male companion, have to be both matching as well as practical, as the last thing needed is trying to keep track of a jacket on top of everything else. I am a great believer in the versatility of scarves, pashminas, and their ilk, being both covering, wide ranging, and thankfully cheap. They can be handily be tied round a handbag for the times when practicality over glamour pervades.

Now shoes. As a female who has managed to reach the lofty above average heights of 5ft 7″ I am in the favourable position of being able to wear either flat or with a heel. Despite this the attraction of the stiletto is often too hard to resist, a decision that absolutely places style over comfort and also likely substance too. This is where cheating comes in. Investing in two sets of shoes, comfort and stylish, is one solution, and being prepared to swap them if the occasion arises. Another option open to the less financially solvent of us is getting some of those little gel inserts (available at many outlets) that may help delay the blisters that seem an inevitable part of a decent night out.

The bag is something that must remain a decision unique to each individual. But if you can fit that extra pair of flat shoes in them then everyone is a winner!

As for the rest of the term, thankfully outfits will not take as much planning. This season has seen the rise of the dungarees, which, while they may be exceedingly practical, pockets-wise are rarely the most flattering of garments. Just remember that dungarees don’t automatically mean that you resemble Alexa Chung. Summer prints, particularly flamingos, have also become a theme of dresses, shirts, and scarves this summer, adding a little extra fun to a seasonal wardrobe. Just be careful you don’t go too extreme and end up resembling an accident from Alice in Wonderland.

So after the quagmire and fun of sorting out your summer wardrobe, I leave you with a piece of fashion advice from Gianni Versace: “Don’t be into trends. Don’t make fashion own you, but you decide what you are, what you want to express by the way you dress and the way to live.”

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