Written by Amy Steadman • Published 05th April 2012

Despite what you might think, having a very clever boyfriend does have its advantages. The main one being that I am invited to a formal ball every year on the grounds of his university college. This year will be my fourth, and yet I have found it four times as hard to find a fabulous formal frock for the occasion.

There are certain expectations entailed in a ‘formal’ dress code. All boys wear dinner jackets (sometimes tails, sometimes even gloves and canes…) and all girls wear floor-length gowns. It is also expected that, as a girl, you avoid the obvious and opt for something that no-one else will be wearing (but with over 500 girls in attendance, I find this one a little unrealistic). So Coast, Monsoon etc are definitely out.

In previous years I have hit the jackpot and found a dress I liked at least 1 month in advance. Last year Zara, the year before French Connection and the year before ASOS. Easy.

This year, however, has been nothing short of a frock nightmare! The event is sponsored by Wish Want Wear – a dress and accessories hire company. Unable to find anything I liked, I headed to online dress hire competitor Girl Meets Dress. The site is filled with gorgeous designer dresses, including the beautiful ‘Limelight’ by Ruth Tarvydas. But I came to the decision that it wasn’t worth me spending up to £100 on a dress that I would inevitably fall in love with and have to send back the following day. So I headed for the high street, and downstairs Topshop was my first point of call. With Lipsy, Opulence, TFNC, Rare… and so on, surely I would find something… Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.

I then turned, somewhat deflatedly to Google. And found the most BEAUTIFUL gown boutique via Asos Market Place (if you haven’t visited – it is a must for boutique/vintage/second-hand fashion) called Elliot Claire London. The Premium Yellow Beaded Dress I found had it all: Pastels – check; Embellishment – check; Flattering shape – check; Whopping price tag – CHECK.  As much as I adored it, I knew I couldn’t really afford to spend so much money on a dress I will realistically only wear once.

So, I decided to rope in my fashion PR resources and look through various fashion magazines for an appropriate dress.

And find one I did – via Company magazine – a Miss Selfridge number, which I proceeded to purchase online. However, when the dress arrived at the office it gave me quite a shock (as well as giving the girls a bit of a giggle). It was almost completely see-through! Great for confident girls with lovely legs, not appropriate for me! So back that one went.

Next, I hit Westfield. Sure enough, I found a beautiful nude maxi dress in French Connection. I paired it with a gold rope belt from H&M and I was set! Or so I thought…

The following day I was then flicking through LOOK Magazine and came across an article about three discount hunting shoppers, one of which claimed to buy the majority of her clothes on eBay. It got me to thinking – I wonder if there are any great dresses on there… A self-confessed eBay novice I tentatively took to the search bar –  ‘formal dress’, I entered, and was greeted with 144,873 results!! I managed to narrow it down to another nude coloured number, much cheaper than my French Connection. So back that one went.

The eBay dress is perfect! It’s formal but not too formal, cheap but not too cheap, and no-one else will have it! However having never shopped on eBay before I am a little nervous as to whether this dress will actually arrive, and whether it will actually look like the pictures. (In an attempt to calm my nerves, Caroline has very kindly agreed to lend me her lovely Jarlo maxi dress.)

This time-consuming experience has left me wondering if there is an opportunity here? A dress swap shop website? Do they exist? If they do, they NEED fashion PR representation!!