Oxford Blood by Antonia Fraser

published 1985  chapter 19 

Shortly after… Saffron himself arrived. In his dark green tail coat with its white facings – the mark of an Oxford Blood – he looked extraordinarily handsome; the slightly gaunt appearance he had presented since his accident, and still more since Tiggie’s death, suited him. With the thick black hair flopping across his forehead, slightly too long for the conventional idea of one who wore a tail coat in the evening, Saffron looked for a moment more like a musician, a young violinist perhaps, than a rich young undergraduate come to escort a lady to a Commem Ball.

Because Jemima was wearing a ball dress of roughly the same colour – bottle-green watered taffeta, off the shoulder, with flounces and a very full skirt – she had to admit to the mirror that they looked curiously well matched. Even her white shoulders matched the white facings of his coat.

observations: The gilded rubbish are attending a Midsummer Ball - should be read with earlier entry on this book.

Throughout Oxford Blood you have to keep reminding yourself that Saffron is a young man, not a woman. He is an aristocrat, and a member of one of the very unattractive  male dining clubs at the University – called here the Oxford Bloods. Taffeta ball gowns were very much the thing at the time, and the iconic image of the era is a young woman in a jewel-coloured dress with her partner’s dinner jacket over the top, sleeves rolled or pushed up. The fashion then expanded to women actually wearing such jackets specifically made for them, and at an earlier social event in the book:

Poppy looked ravishing in a loose but extremely well-cut white linen dinner jacket, wing collar and narrow black tie…[Jemima] could not summon up enormous interest in Poppy’s political views; on the other hand she would like to know where she got the dinner jacket.
The Oxford University Balls are very formal, fancy affairs held at the end of the summer term, with expensive tickets and endless entertainments – they go on all night, ending in breakfast for the survivors.

So Jemima and Saffron are not over-dressed, though we are going to find out what Jemima wears under her dress (not much). The clothes are always carefully described, so it’s surprising that at one point Fraser has forgotten/made a change – a character is wearing gold lame early in the book, and later is wearing a red velvet dress ‘same as she wore’ at the earlier event. Another surprise comes with the news that the butler at the posh house has won a TV talent contest before an audience of millions and is now famous for his singing – it’s a very modern reality-show touch.

For B and C and G. I hope that you and your friends survive/enjoy it.

Links on the blog: The book featured before. The hero of this book went to a similar Ball in Cambridge, 80 years earlier. A fictional version of Princess Diana wears a green evening dress here.

The main photo is of Drew Barrymore – 80s wild child if ever there was one – at a film festival, and was taken by David Shankbone. The other picture is from a fashion mag of 1985.


  1. I have just recently read about some of the Antonia Fraser mysteries and wondered if I should try reading them again. I know I read and enjoyed (some of) her books back in the 80's. But don't remember much about them. Sounds like fun, especially since I would love reading about that time again.

    1. I found this one great fun to read again, Tracy, but more for the period details than the detection - the era, the clothes and the attitudes seemed a long time ago, and I enjoyed the sense of history.


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