A guide to dress codes for Oxford and Cambridge balls
Knowing what to wear to an event can seem complex and overwhelming. What’s the difference between black and white tie? Do I really need a top hat? When should I wear culturally appropriate dress? OXEX sets out some of the most common dress codes you’re likely to find for events in Oxford and Cambridge.
A large majority of Oxford and Cambridge events require Black Tie in one form or another, so it’s worth getting this simple but smart dress code right.
For men, Black Tie is normally a black dinner jacket paired with a white dress shirt, black bow tie, black trousers with a satin seam and black shoes. You can also optionally choose to add a waistcoat or a cummerbund to give the outfit a more complete look.
While you can make sure to have the appropriate dress shirt, dinner jacket, and matching trousers, it is worth noting that almost all events will admit you without a regular white shirt and black suit, as long as it is paired with a black bow tie. This can be an effective way to own Black Tie without having to buy a dedicated suit.
For women, there is lots of flexibility. Typically, a Black Tie dress code would expect a cocktail dress or ballgown, but this can vary in length and can range from being just below White Tie to relatively informal. Much like with White Tie for women, to find an affordable Black Tie dress, you can look at dress swap sites online.
White Tie is typically the dress code for some of the largest and most exclusive events in Oxford and Cambridge – it is the most formal dress code for events. Many of Oxford’s Commemoration Balls and some of Cambridge’s May Balls require White Tie. It can feel like a very fun opportunity to get properly dressed up. So, what is it and how should you find it?
For men, it typically consists of a white wing-collared shirt and bow tie. This is then paired with a white waistcoat and black tailcoat, along with black trousers and black shoes. For the basis of White Tie, this is all you need.
You may choose to enhance your White Tie with several optional extras. Many people add a white lapel flower, while adding a top hat, pocket watch, white gloves or a walking stick can also compliment the outfit. None of these are required however, so you should view it as an opportunity to get creative!
Sourcing a tailcoat and waistcoat for an event can seem difficult. Most people typically don’t buy their own, but instead rent them from tailors. Often, events arrange discounts with tailors which rent White Tie, so reach out to the organisers of your event to find out if they have a preferred supplier.
For women, White Tie is normally a long floor-length ball or evening gown. This can be paired with several accessories, including jewellery and opera style gloves. It is also acceptable to wear a tiara and carry a small bag, but these are entirely optional.
Finding an appropriate dress can be a challenge, especially for an affordable price. Make sure to check out dress swap sites on Facebook, as well as looking at companies that will hire dresses out.
Cultural or National Dress
Often dress codes will specify either Black or White Tie, but then add a caveat of Cultural or National Dress. This is to allow for people to wear appropriately formal outfits that reflect their cultural or national heritage. This can be anything from a kilt to a sari to military uniform – if in doubt reach out to the event organisers to check whether what you want to wear is appropriate.