School ball season: Student dyes Trade Me wedding dress blue for Cinderella look

Bream Bay College student Mirabella Uphof dyed a wedding dress blue to get her dream look for her school ball. Photo / Supplied

Since Mirabella Uphof was 11 she’s been dreaming of her Year 13 school ball – complete with a big blue Cinderella dress.

But when Omicron put New Zealand in the red traffic light setting, the 17-year-old feared her ball was off for good.

Then the country moved to the orange light setting in mid-April and her school, Bream Bay College, announced the event would go ahead in just over a month.

“It was quite overwhelming when I found out that it wasn’t too far away,” Uphof said.

Finding the dress of her dreams was stressful at short notice especially in rural Ruakākā, south of Whangārei.

Most of her classmates drove down to Auckland to buy or hire a gown, but Uphof found a wedding dress on Trade Me for $280.

“It was a bit risky. I was hoping that it would look like the picture and it does, so that’s great,” she said. Although she was nervous about dying the dress, it turned out just as she’d dreamed it would.

Mirabella bought a wedding dress off TradeMe and dyed it herself to create her dream ball gown. Photo / SuppliedMirabella bought a wedding dress off TradeMe and dyed it herself to create her dream ball gown. Photo / Supplied

Students at Bream Bay plan to save money in other ways, too. Her friends will do each others’ hair and makeup, and she’ll wear last year’s shoes. Her date’s wearing the same suit he wore in Year 12.

They won’t bother with a corsage: “It’s a cool idea but I don’t think many people do it any more”. The May 27 event will be held in the school hall, which students have decorated themselves.

Uphof attended the Dilworth School ball last year, where tickets were about $120 compared to $65 at Bream Bay. She reckons Aucklanders spend more money on everything ball-related and the events are much more formal. Most Dilworth students arrived in limousines, while in Ruakākā students use classic cars and even the odd tractor or fire truck.

Ball season in Auckland is also well underway after many schools had to cancel last year. Edgewater College, Diocesan School for Girls, Epsom Girls Grammar, Kings College and ACG Parnell all have balls in coming weeks, but some will be in September or later.

Diocesan principal Heather McRae said the ball date was only confirmed when the city moved to the orange traffic light setting in April.

Heather McRae, principal of Diocesan School for Girls, said all appropriate health and safety measures would be taken at the school's upcoming ball. Photo / SuppliedHeather McRae, principal of Diocesan School for Girls, said all appropriate health and safety measures would be taken at the school’s upcoming ball. Photo / Supplied

All appropriate health and safety requirements would be applied including hand sanitiser and seated dining. Face masks would be encouraged and students were advised not to attend if they had symptoms, McRae said.

“If the settings for Auckland change, we would immediately address the situation – the health and safety of our young people and staff is always of paramount importance.”

At Howick College in east Auckland, the ball is still six weeks away but principal Iva Ropati wasn’t expecting a Covid curveball.

The school was recording Covid cases daily and they didn’t seem to be tracking up. Howick was still following cleaning protocols and encouraged mask-wearing, but only around 20 per cent of students wore them.

“We haven’t actually put a lot of thought into a second wave of Covid – I’m not sure why,” he said.

Last year’s ball was cancelled so students were very excited about this year’s event, scheduled for June 25.

An alternate date has been planned “just in case” but Ropati conceded Howick might need to look harder at what it would do if there was a surge in cases or a bad new strain.

“Maybe there’s a little bit of wishful thinking … But we’re sort of taking the attitude that [Covid’s] not going to be a problem.”

Ministry of Education leader of operations Sean Teddy said school boards were legally responsible for health and safety in schools.

Howick College principal Iva Ropati said the school wasn't expecting a surge in Covid cases before the school ball. Photo / SuppliedHowick College principal Iva Ropati said the school wasn’t expecting a surge in Covid cases before the school ball. Photo / Supplied

“We are able to provide guidance and advice but as the boards are ultimately responsible, we cannot make the risk assessments on the board’s behalf.”

Non-curriculum events would need to follow the same rules as any other event under the orange setting, Teddy said. Schools knew their communities best so were best placed to make decisions that prioritised their safety and wellbeing.

‘They’ve been waiting so long to get dressed up’

Flashing some skin is in this ball season. Floor-length gowns with thigh-high splits, backless dresses, plunging cleavage and midriff cutouts are all in fashion – at least among Year 13 girls.

But Saejung Oh, founder of OhRentMe, said younger students were still looking for elegant, simple gowns.

“Their mums have had a say. They don’t want see their 16 or 17-year-old daughter in a cleavagey or cutout dress,” she said.

“Whereas Year 13, it’s their final ball, they tend to go a little bit more edgy.”

Last year bright pink was popular but this year more muted, elegant colours like champagne were in, Oh said.

A ball gown could be rented for about $80, plus a compulsory damage waiver of $7 in case they got ripped, stained or ruined.

“A lot of mums come in and they say how much of a game-changer it is that they don’t have to spend hundreds on a dress that their daughters are only going to wear once.”

At designer rental store Style Starter in Newmarket the “dress of the season” was a floor-length lace-back gown, according to alterations specialist Jasmine Karsten.

The La Lune lace-back maxi dress from Australian designer Shona Joy was now almost impossible to get, especially in smoke blue.

Most ballgoers were hiring floor-length gowns but “slowly but surely some girls are starting to go for a more midi-length gown – it’s a more hands-free, stress-free kind of style”, Karsten said.

Both businesses have been run off their feet, and Nicki Collett – owner of the Beauty Hub in Auckland – said her 15 mobile hair and makeup artists were also fully booked out within days of a ball date being announced.

Most clients requested their hair down with loose waves, but messy buns and ponytails remained popular. Glam makeup was the most requested but some girls were going more natural.

A hair and makeup combo cost $160, and many students were using credit from cancelled 2021 events. They were all very excited, she said.

“It’s great, the girls have been waiting so long to get dressed up and have their balls.”