Ball season should not have to mean a huge cost for students, or to the planet

Formal wear is not cheap, but we must start to consider the affordable alternatives available to us and try to make changes, not excuses

Being in the midst of college ball season, we are all painfully aware of the different efforts and preparation measures to be undertaken before each event. One of the key aspects of this prep being, of course, picking the outfit. Unlike the Pav after your Friday lectures, the vast majority of these balls require formal attire. As many of us have noticed over the years, suits and evening dresses are not cheap, especially for clothes we only wear once in a blue moon. Naturally, this pushes students to turn to cheaper outfit options, the go-to for many of us being the fast fashion options that offer lots of choice at low prices. However, with the number of viable slow-fashion options available to us, I believe that this ball season we should all make an effort to be environmentally conscious, and resist the temptations to buy more for less.

This is not at all intended to shame students who cannot afford high-end sustainable pieces. There are very few of us who have the means to shop like this, and ball season especially is expensive outside of the cost of the clothes, with ticket prices, food and drink, and taxis to get home safely all stretching the budget. Even for those who can afford an expensive, high-quality evening gown or suit that will wear well over time, for the amount of wear you will be getting out of that outfit as a student may seem like less than value for money, especially with the pressure to not wear the same outfit to different events every year. If buying a high-quality piece of clothing is something that you are eager to invest in, for the sake of value for your money, and in favour of making the sustainable choice, try to keep in mind whether or not you will wear it again, especially if it is a formal dress. 

“Realistically, buying an expensive evening dress or tux is not a viable option for students, even if they know they will wear it again in the future.”

However, financial pressure is the predominant driving force behind outfit decisions and purchases for the majority of students, whether we are considering everyday casual wear or the rare formal appearance. Realistically, buying an expensive evening dress or tux is not a viable option for students, even if they know they will wear it again in the future. Formal attire is typically especially expensive clothes shopping, and not something that the average student will have lying around in their wardrobe. Nonetheless, I think we owe it to ourselves, the environment, and our pockets to try some of the sustainable options that are viable. Affordable, sustainable clothing is not a myth and does not take a vast amount of luck and an expert thrift-shopping eye to find. 

There are a lot of ways to do this. Renting dresses is an interesting option that has grown hugely in popularity recently. It’s a great way to access designer dresses for a fraction of the price. This fraction can still be on the pricier side, however the idea is great! Even better yet, share and borrow dresses with your friends. Not only is this like shopping for free but sharing clothes with friends can be a staple for a night out anyway, and if you have already splashed out on dresses last year that you don’t want to wear again, one of your friends just might love it. The best part about this idea is that it’s not only convenient, fun, and sustainable, but it’s completely free unless your friends decide to charge!

“One of the aspects of this season that we can and should be looking at is what we do after the events are over, and we are left with clothes that we never wear taking up room in our wardrobe.”

Depop is another useful tool this season, and for two reasons. Not only does it give you the chance to shop sustainably and affordably for formal outfits, but it also gives you the chance to sell or swap your old ones with others. If you wore a dress last year that you love, but are not going to wear again, why not list it on Depop for someone else to wear and love next? Not only is this a green way to go, but it is also potentially funding your next outfit at the same time as you are successfully recycling your old one. One of the aspects of this season that we can and should be looking at is what we do after the events are over, and we are left with clothes that we never wear taking up room in our wardrobe. If it’s not something you think you’ll use, definitely do not throw it away, but potentially consider selling it second-hand, or donating to a charity shop. 

Another good way to go about this issue is to consider how you will style this outfit you are considering purchasing more regularly. Try to pick something that fits in your wardrobe so that you could potentially style it again for college or a night out. If you are buying accessories to go with your outfit, take the opportunity to purchase a new staple piece for your jewellery, bag, or shoe collection that can make a reappearance more than once in its life. If you buy a dress that fits in with your wardrobe colour palette, you can wear it again for college as a long skirt with a jumper over it. If you invest in a suit, consider comfortable suit pants which would fit with your typical colour scheme, so that you could restyle again more casually for college or work. Upstyling is also a viable alternative to never wearing a piece again. If you never wear long dresses, see if you could shorten the length for more frequent use. If you have a light-coloured item that would not usually be your everyday style, consider dying it a darker colour for it to match with more things. The key thing to note is that there are a lot of ways to be less wasteful, and getting creative is not as difficult as you think!

There are a million ways to be more sustainable and less wasteful this ball season, and I think we should all keep this in mind as we shop and after the events are over. By making smart choices, weighing up cost and quality, thinking in the long term, and not being afraid to rewear our old favourites and borrow and share with our friends, there is a real opportunity here to take responsibility for our environmental impact. We have a responsibility to be green within reason as students, where we realistically can and when we can afford to. With many viable alternative options to consider, there is a great opportunity for students to make little steps and changes to make their fashion choices more green, and just as fabulous.

Abby Cleaver

Abby Cleaver is the current life editor at Trinity News, having previously served as comment editor, and is a final year English literature and philosophy student.