From debutantes to a leaky roof: A short history of Ormond Ball

Earlier in the semester the Students’ Club held its annual ball, an ‘Enchanted Forest’ themed event featuring ‘mist-covered groves’ and the ‘twinkling lights of fairies.’ Ormond Ball has been a calendar stalwart for over a century and its essence remains similar to 1914, when a Melbourne newspaper described it as ‘celebrated, and justly so, for the youth and beauty is gathered together.’

Much about the event has changed over time: these days there are no debutantes or bridge tables, while the smoke haze that so shrouded the dance floor that it was difficult to identify dancers is similarly bygone. Some things are for the better.

While we have few reports about the fashion from this year’s Ball, we have concluded there was little ‘nut brown lace’ and few fur capes as worn by the Picken ladies in the 1930s. The length of skirts is unlikely to be as controversial this year as in 1910, when reports of the Ball noted that shorter skirts had come into fashion, eliminating the ‘unsightly’ practice of hiking one’s dress up in order to dance. At the 1922 Ball it was other limbs that were the problem: a reporter noted that ‘the dancing frocks had been ‘unbecomingly scant about the shoulders and arms.’ Such commentary was standard: for many decades Melbourne newspapers carried columns full of reports on the outfits worn at this kind of social event. For this reason we know that at one Ormond Ball a Mrs Skeats wore pale mauve crepe with violet velvet; the following year she was in Bruges lace and the next it was ‘raven’s-wing charmeuse trimmed with medallions of oriental embroidery [and] touches of gold tissue.’ 

While fashions have changed, one constant over the years has been the offer of live entertainment. In the early 1980s Suzi Quatro played the Ormond Ball, ‘looking very leathery and very sultry and completely unchanged since we jived to her back in Primary School’ according to the Chronicle

And as with all events of this nature, Ormond Ball has not been without mishaps. In 1958 there was a ‘virile waterfall’ in the foyer due to a leaky roof; several years later a minister of the church got a speeding ticket on the way home and one year the floor was so slippery that falling over allegedly claimed three people’s front teeth. 

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