Growing up in a middle class home in Coon Rapids, Minnesota, the thought of going to super fancy balls never really crossed my mind. I think the fanciest event I ever went to was a pretty normal wedding. When Jenny texted me asking It i wanted to go to the Oxford Polo Club Ball I thought there was no way in hell we would be allowed in there.
The Oxford Polo Club Ball is one of the most prestigious balls on the University of Oxford calendar. Jenny got an invited from a friend who is in the polo club before I arrived in England. Her brief explanation over the phone was: White tie, at the Tower of London, and a river cruise on the Thames. I thought she was crazy. First I figured there was no way we’d be able to afford it, and second I thought it must be a mistake that we could even get an invite, and someone would eventually tell us that we couldn’t go. After talking about it for a few minute we decided that it wasn’t too expensive, and might be a once in a lifetime event for us that we couldn’t pass up. I mean private tour of the Crown Jewels, dinner and reception inside the Tower of London, and a fancy boat ride on the Thames through Central London, when would we ever be in a position to do something like that again.
Our friend got us tickets and I made my way over to England. Over the next month and a half we were so busy exploring England that I somewhat forgot we were even going to the ball. About a week before the ball I decided it was time to start getting ready. First thing was to decide what to wear. As it was a white tie event, there wasn’t much of an option. As a guy who hasn’t even worn a tux since I was probably 4 years old, I was a little intimidated by the formal evening attire. I had no idea what I needed to get for the ensemble, or how to correctly wear each piece. Luckily for me, Oxford is very versed in formalwear so it was not hard to find a shop to rent everything I needed from. The only other thing I needed to get was cufflinks.
When the day of the ball came, we decided to get dressed and take some pictures by some of Oxford’s most famous buildings with some friends we were going with. There is no more surreal feeling than walking around in the most formal attire imaginable in front of a bunch of tourists. Every time we stopped to take pictures we had several people ask what we were doing, or if we were going to a wedding. It didn’t help either that when I answered them, it was obvious that I was American (and everyone in our little group was American or Canadian), and it just confused them even more.
After the photo shoot we got on the bus with all the other well dressed people and made out way to the Tower of London. The only problem getting there was that the tower is in Central London. Even though Oxford is roughly 50 miles from London, it took over two hours to get there because London was so busy on a Friday night.
Once we finally got to the tower, we got in smoothly, and the Yeoman Warders gave us a brief history of the tower. There’s a lot of pretty gruesome history that happened in the Tower of London. After the history, we got to take a private tour of the Crown Jewels. The jewels were pretty fantastic, but we were anxious to get to the part of the night we actually came there for, the drinking. We had a very nice champagne reception in one of the museum galleries on the grounds. We got to drink while looking at all kinds of artifacts, it was pretty cool. After the reception we moved to another part of the tower for a four course dinner. Dinner was great, pork and potatoes, with chocolate fore dessert.
After downing a few bottles of wine between us, we made our way to the last stop for the evening, a boat cruise on the Thames. The boat, thankfully with a fully stocked bar, carried us from the tower west, through most of downtown and central London. Along the way we passed Big Ben and Parliament, along with several other important buildings. But the boat served first and foremost for a vessel for our dance party. It was the one time in the night where everyone could drop the formalities of the ball and let loose a little bit (and also make jokes about being Billy Zane in Titanic).
All in all it was a great experience, and probably something we would only experience once in a lifetime. I’m so glad we got the invitation and didn’t shy away because we felt we didn’t exactly belong in that world.