Let’s face it, going to balls was all about the dressing up. But I had forgotten until I was reading a novel by Catherine Czerkawska , set partly in the seventies, that my very first ball dress was, like the heroine’s, a nightie; in my case a nightie purchased by my prescient Mum at a Pippa Dee party. Remember them? Empire line and trimmed with white lace, we agreed no one would know it wasn’t a ‘proper frock’, which was probably true until I bumped into someone wearing the same design in a different colour. No matter. My twin and I exchanged cautious nods of recognition on the stairs. Our secret was safe.
Of course St. Andrews was not well blessed with fashion emporia, nor did any of us have money to chuck around, and so the odd nightwear conversion could be forgiven. But thinking back, it’s interesting that in the heyday of the permissive age, evening wear (mine was nothing like the picture) veered towards the modest, with stand-up collars and leg of mutton sleeves to the fore. Maybe the weather had something to do with it, but only the dress I wore to our graduation ball (mid-summer) actually revealed my shoulders.
It was, I think, designed by Marion Donaldson, a label which began in the sixties and went though to the eighties. They were stocked by a smart shop on (*consults map*) what I think may have been Bell Street and despite the cost were surprisingly popular. A friend, I’m sure, was married in one. I had three at different times, possibly the only designer dresses I have ever owned.
And I’m hugely grateful to Alison Baverstock for providing this lovely photo from Sallies Ball in 1978. Alison says her dress was also a Marion Donaldson and bought from the very same shop as mine, a few years later. (Looks like there was more of a Laura Ashley look going on by then). She also reminds me that St. Andrews has the highest number of subsequent marriages between its graduates.
And here it is, my own favourite Marion Donaldson, retrieved from the depths of an old photo box. I had assumed this was Regs Ball or Hamilton but looking at the background decor (orange plastic and bare bricks?)I think it must be the Students’ Union. In my third of fourth year they had a celebration weekend to open the new building which had previously been in North Street. Another excuse for a ball.
As for the dress, it’s no longer with us, although my daughter (now 25) remembers wearing it for dressing up at Halloween. Oh dear, at least as I recall she was a princess, not a witch!