In Praise of Black Tie Dressing


Our university was founded in 1413 and as such we have traditions, rituals and balls. When I tell any of my non-St Andrews friends that I attend balls, they react in a heady mix of intrigue, astonishment and a slight sneer at the “pretentiousness” of our tradition.

They seem to exclusively picture rich kids in full ball gowns and tux suits. Granted, the Kate Kennedy Club may be poking around somewhere with their port and cigars but leaving them aside, most people have learned to embrace our balls in the modern world.

Our black tie events are not that of the 19th century where the dress code meant strictly ball gowns, tiaras and tail coats. Despite its traditional routes, black tie events are constantly resuscitating modern fashion in our ancient university town.

The black tie dress code has the ability to strike fear into even the most confident dresser; it happens to us all. Yet, really, this is the opposite reaction that we should all be having.

Black tie comes with the promise that it is literally impossible to be overdressed- hurrah! This means that we can experiment to our hearts content with the slightly more abstract and bold fashion choices without shining like a haute couture sore thumb on The Vic dance floor.

The only problem to complain of is possibly having too much choice of suitable apparel, not that that is an issue. With every ball I attend, I am able to better acknowledge the way in which people are able to preserve the regal tradition of formalwear without all of the old demanding etiquette.

With modern black tie dressing the key is to exude elegance, grace and sophistication. The fashion bible, Vogue, has said that by definition, black tie dressing is “a look that is polished and sophisticated in every sense of the word- outfit, accessories, hair, make-up and attitude.” It is quite simply wearing your clothes with a distinct air of elegance.

Therefore, despite other preconceptions, black tie dressing does not need to cost the earth! We have moved with the times in realising that it is quite unrealistic to expect new designer garb for each event.

Whilst debutants the world over will be reeling at this thought, there is actually a lot of Topshop and various other high street brands cropping up at each event I go to. And do you know what? It looks great!

Whilst some may go to a designer boutique and get styled head to toe (which can still look beautiful), you can equally spend half the money but double the time to create a truly unique look that will help you stand out from the crowd.

Whether Armani or Asos, chances are, with an open mind, you will be able to make a lovely ensemble to dazzle the most hardened fashion critics.

The age old ball tradition is keeping St. Andrews students thinking about their fashion choices and allowing them to experiment in a way that other universities events just do not quite allow.

They get a lot of flack now a days, whether it be the snide attacks from your peers at other educational institutions or inside attacks from those who question their relevance in our modern society.

Yet, for a multitude of reasons – but mainly for the sake of fashion – I would argue that balls are just perfect for keeping fashion alive in our rural, sea side town. After all how could we condemn an event that allows you to dawn your glad rags and groove in your finery?


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