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What Students Care About Most: Dress Codes (Or Is It Shoes?)

23/05/2013 11:58 BST | Updated 19/07/2013 10:12 BST
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In a month's time I will be starting my job as a student representative. It is a full time job and I will be paid to represent, and act on, the needs, desires and whims of the student body: if I don't do this right, I will feel bad at my job (and I like getting things right).

I care about what students want, and what gets them riled, and this year, the thing that got everyone talking at Bristol...was the Union Summer Ball dress code. This article and an open letter came out attacking what the ball had 'become' as more information about it was announced: taking place on grass and having music caused these writers to label it a 'festival'. The 'so-called "Bristol Summer Ball"' was now an 'end of year atrocity' as the 'crafty' ball promoters (and Union) cruelly misled the innocent student population. You couldn't wear heels, and, for the love of God, you might have to leave the floor length dress at home. The key change that seemed to provoke both writers was the altered information from 'black tie' to 'optional black tie'.

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All of a sudden my news feed was flooded with reposts of the articles, and the general consensus was that the Union was a bloody mess and shambles for deceiving the student body about the nature of the ball. I'm not going to go into the 'he said she said' or the specifics of to what extent the Union 'lied' to us (especially as I'm soon to be affiliated). But what I want to say is...really?

A dress code?

The word 'optional'?

The possibility of not being able to wear stiletto heels?

THIS is what pisses some of the smartest, most brilliant young people in all the country?

I mean, I know we all hate turning up in the wrong outfit (I dressed as a snowstorm for what turned out to be Badock Hall's very casual Christmas party in first year) but I saw more anger for this amongst Bristol Students than I did for the news that the Christian Union banned women speakers, more (on Facebook and student media anyway) about this than when the Sport and Health centre announced only those who'd paid for a £150 sports pass would be allowed to use the facilities, more about this than when anti-abortion activists displayed graphic pictures of dead foetuses on our walk to Uni.

I'm not talking about the media addicted/blog-posting/ Twitter fiend students (maybe we need to get out more?), I'm talking about the wider body: for the other issues I've just mentioned...there didn't seem to be much discussion or opinion either side.

But when you find out your BALL is taking place on a FIELD. HEAVEN'S ABOVE.

Here's a crazy fact for you: dozens of formal events take place on grass - Buckingham Palace garden parties, weddings in stately homes, Oxbridge balls (Christ's College Cambridge's Quincentenial Ball, which cost £100, included the highlight of dancing on the grass. Interesting fact: people wore heels). So why was this the issue? As more and more posts kept appearing: 'A festival? What the F***?' I kept thinking: but it's still a ball, it's still a ball, it's still a ball.

Granted it's now 'optional black tie' (is it just me that thinks that still means dress real fancy?) but it's taking place in some beautiful gardens, there's going to be marquees and music and a fairground (all of which were at Wills' ball and no one questioned the ball status then). I get it, when you pay £40, you want to get what you paid for, and a friend pointed out to me that maybe tensions were high about this issue because everyone was bogged down in revision, essays, exams and stress (good luck with all of them by the way).

But whatever the reason this got volatile, it still got volatile. Whether it's my job or not my job, I love to hear what students care about, and if what you care about most is having a ball on a floored surface, rather than grass, then I will do my best to make that happen next year. But if there's something else...something that makes you so mad that you just want to SCREAM, like some article where a wanky not-even-student-representative-yet is asking you to care about something other than shoes...then I want to hear about it.

And, for the record, (so there's no embarrassing repeats of the snowstorm incident) I'm wearing a floor length strapless black dress that I've borrowed off my mum, and a pair of heels with these heel protectors. It's the fanciest dress I've ever worn for anything ever. I'm going to feel like a bond girl kick-ass princess at a ball and no amount of grass, or music, will stop that.