Apr 10, 2024

Back to the Future: T-Ball Trends Past

Eloise Sherrard speaks to Trinity alumni about the clothes they wore to their Trinity Ball

Eloise SherrardDeputy Fashion Editor
Sinéad Baker for The University Times

We find ourselves in ball season. Of course when I say ball, I don’t mean the little bouncy balls that you used to throw at classmates who you found yourself at war with as a child. I do in fact mean the sort of bouncy ball that us Trinity students more formally know as Trinity Ball, where you instead bounce around a vast crowd of your fellow students and, in the hysterical process, successfully rip a few trains on dresses and knock a few dickie bows flying.

And with these trains and dickie bows in mind opens the floodgate to the bigger question at hand: how did we go from an ocean of oversized leather jackets, Doc Martens, skinny scarves and blazers trudging through Front Square at 9am on Monday morning, to a mob of flowing, sparkling dresses and evening suits, throwing each other around Front Square on a Saturday morning at 2am?

This juxtaposition on campus which we witness in this season isn’t merely a current phenomenon, but one which has been known to occur every year since 1959. It is interesting when examining photos from Trinity Ball over the years to note just how different the styles for the occasion used to be compared with what we see today and to note how it has evolved. Such photos from the ball’s early days in the 60s reveal copious amounts of bouncy dresses with nipped in waists and skater-style skirts, which were often paired with silk gloves and kitten toe heels, all of this pitted against the classy black tie evening suit. As Trinity Ball continued to evolve through the years, so did the attire of the event. The 80s and 90s showcased a shift away from the classic black tie evening suit to more colourful suit jackets, with tartan and tweed often making an appearance. The bouncy dresses never fully went away, just got revamped with the addition of bows and more tulle as gloves from the 60s were swapped for shawls and scarves. 


I have gained this insight from what has felt like endless perusing through College’s Tiktok and Instagram, as well as many Facebook pages in which alumni have sent in their best Trinity Ball snaps from over the years. However, when immersed in this ocean of fabulous photos from ball seasons over the decades, and in observing their contents, I have also observed how there are very few photos which show the day-to-day fashion on campus outside of ball season over the years.To satisfy my curiosity, I turned to Trinity’s alumni themselves, who kindly shared with me their memories of what was hot on campus years ago. Let me take you back or, as Lindsay Lohan says so well in ‘The Parent Trap’, “Just relax. Sail through time. Back to yesteryear.”

One former student, who attended Trinity in the 80s, remembered that the style on campus at the time was embodied by “a big influence from SCA music and New Romanticism” as well as “big fur coats and velvet jackets”. A friend of mine asked her mother who attended Trinity in the 80s what her memories were of what was hot on campus: “God it was awful! Men wore trousers that didn’t fit and terrible white runners. Everything was acrylic or nylon and everything would cling to people the wrong way… your father used to wear blue jeans, a purple shirt and white runners – it’s a shock I ever married him.” I commend her for her honesty! 

Another past student from the 80s remarked on how there “weren’t really any decent clothes shops in Dublin… no Zara or H&M, let alone & Other Stories or Massimo Dutti”. They went on to explain that “As a result we were really limited in the clothes we could buy”. In their opinion, the only good clothes shops in Dublin at the time were “Mirror Mirror on St Stephen’s Green and later there was Oasis.” In light of this, they went on to explain that, “most people wore jeans and jumpers. People also wore Adidas runners, which have come back. A few very stylish women really stood out in the Arts Block – they wore a lot of black and fishnet tights.” Proof that the Arts Block has perhaps always been ahead of the curve and generally considered campus’ prime breeding ground for head-turning outfits.

Moving swiftly on to the 90s, another past Trinity student kindly shared with me their memories of the student style on campus in their day. They commented that “Doc Martens were very popular… Ox blood was very popular but I preferred black” and went on to add: “I, like many, used to buy them from Peg’s Stall behind the Ilac Centre near Moore Street. Everyone knew of Peg. Bargaining was involved.” They continued: “I like many other young ladies in the Hamilton building wore long skirts a lot, normally black with a small flower design. I raided my grandmother’s old clothes regularly and wore an old light brown suede jacket with the skirt and my Docs. I think second-hand shops weren’t so popular, but students reused clothes from family when they could.” As a past rower, they added, “I always wore my rowing scarf proudly in the winter and when I was given the harden status I often wore that instead. I had few clothes and money was not so plentiful. I remember being aware of a notable difference between what students in the Arts Block wore compared to students studying science related subjects. It seemed that arts students were more into current fashion perhaps and science students wore more hippy type clothes.”

I hope you have enjoyed your stylish voyage back in time. And maybe, when you’re picking your outfit for Friday’s festivities, consider how future arts-block-lurkers might look back on our years of 

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