How many balls did I attend at St. Andrews? Let me count the dresses! Balls, in my day anyway, were the highlights of the social season. And since this ran pretty much throughout the academic year, there was always a ball of some kind in the offing. The majority were hall balls, (of which Hall Ball was just one confusing example) put on by all the main residences and during which the entire building was given over to partying, with any resident not attending (whether by choice or for lack of a partner) forced to move out for the night. Harsh? Yes, but not to my knowledge ever challenged. For those not attached to a residence, there was the Union Ball and in some years the Rectorial Ball. In short, any excuse to have a ball.
Hall balls were usually themed, from the printed invitations (whose arrival could be the cause of huge anticipation and/or anxiety) to the decorations and music on the night. In the main areas there would be eating, live music and a disco. But the main action took place in room parties, where in the absence of a drinks licence, pre-bought alcohol flowed freely amongst friendship groups and other hangers on. An invitation to the ball was nothing without the accompanying invitation to a room party, while spare rooms were appropriated for erm, shall we say other purposes?
If the whole university scene was a match-making opportunity, hall balls in particular were a mainstay of that process, since the desirability of attending your own ball allowed a certain social leeway. A girl who might never ask a boy out on a date might well summon up the courage to ask him to the ball (and I know one who did!) Or she could ask a friend, or even the friend of a friend, with no romantic intent, although that initial premise might well become blurred as the night wore on!
There were plenty of social niceties. Formal dress was required and women were always sent a corsage on the day of the ball. For men who were otherwise permanently attached to jeans and a
holey comfy sweater, it was a lesson in the pleasures of dressing up, just once in a while. In fact, a bit of an education.
I’m a bit gutted to have no suitable photo to hand, but for those more interested in the dressing up, do read on.