Posture, patience and preparation: A Beginner’s Guide to May Ball Survival

Kat Karpenko 13 May 2015

Pace yourself, pack some flats, and power through the night. This – combined with a few too many glasses of champagne – is how you are going to get through your first May Ball. You will also need your ticket and your phone, and maybe some money for a taxi. In the run up however, it's best to bear in mind the three 'P’s: Posture, Patience and Preparation. Last year I was effectively debilitated by a friend who refused to bring or wear flats despite an open resentment of heels. As a note to anyone who feels obligated to wear heels: there is always a choice.

The people that choose to don a pair of heels for the first time in their life at a 10-hour May Ball – these people will not survive. The people that show up sans bag and expect you to squeeze another lipstick, pill packet, and phone into your already incredibly full clutch – these people are not your friends. Preparation, thus, is key. A bag can cost as much or as little as you want it to. Most of mine are actually cast-offs from relatives, bar one which I bought for £15 from Jemporium Vintage at the Grafton Centre. It's all about the borrowing. Equally, by wearing your ball shoes either at a previous event or even just around your room as you revise will immediately remove that first feeling of shock that comes when you adjust your posture in a new pair of shoes, and you may actually be able to walk in them without aid. It's the dream. One last thing to consider on the shoe front is investing in some roll-up flats (rollasole online do these for £10–15) and to have them snuck inside your bag for emergencies. (After spending the good part of an hour staggering back to Catz with heels in hand and bare feet on gravel, I can confidently say that such things are worth spending money on.)

But what to do about the dress itself? A couple of my friends bought theirs online, from charity shops, from shops like ASOS or Ted Baker (complete with in-store student discount), and others simply recycled and restyled their old prom dresses. You really don't need to spend a fortune on it. I hit up Judy's Affordable Vintage Fair and found a late 1940s strapless gown that was slightly ripped, a size too big, and £110 – cash only. While rummaging through sale rails and vintage stands can feel a bit like Tinder at times (a whole lot of ‘no’s, ‘maybe’s and the occasional creep) amongst the weirdly proportioned and dodgily dyed occasionwear you will find one with potential, but you've just got to be patient. I managed to get a reduced price due to the fact it was going to need tailoring, and then tracked down an excellent tailor on Mill Road who re-sized the bodice for little more than a tenner. At the market and at Calico (fabric shop off by Aromi) you will be able to find names and contact details for tailors and seamstresses which will help you transform your dress. This does have its drawbacks, for example I found that very often people didn't want to deal with it because the lacework was so fine and essentially in a state of decay. If this is the case, Google specialist dressmakers or enlist in the help of a crafty relative – I have been blessed with an absolute godsend of a grandmother who has been repairing the embroidery on a daily basis for this coming May Week – or even just in a needle and thread and have a go yourself. And finally, don't sweat the small stuff. May Week is the one point in the year where you can truly let go. Choosing what to wear is the tiniest part of it, so just have some fun and embrace it.