DUCFS: a novice review

By Emily Hurst

Somewhere between the this-isn’t-student-money auction and the Victoria’s Secret-esque finale, I lost all sense of what was going on here. Yes, I agreed to come here of my own volition. No, I do not have experience of fashion shows, let alone student ones. The £78 tickets should have been a clue. They were not.

I’ve paid substantial amounts before to attend balls. It is an excruciating process transferring that sort of sum but, hey, I’d just been paid and I’d always wanted to see what this whole student Fashion Show thing was really like. I remember once seeing flashing lights from the Castle windows and someone explaining, with an air of mystery, ‘They’re doing a fashion show’. A friend had helped to organise our college’s CFS last year and it had involved a low-key fundraiser at Fab’s, I think.

In my mind, I pictured a small runway with a few dazed students wondering about wearing some odd clothes. The reality was an extremely high production value set-up with lighting cues, booming music sets and a group who – until the last track, where we found out they could smile – might have convinced me they were professional models. The razor-sharp cheek bones, the professional hair and make-up, the unwavering stern stares. Not a hint of blue steel.

Ok, even as an inexpert observer, some aspects were amateurish. The choreography and spacing were not always perfect and some models strutted and posed better than others. Still, I was spellbound. And the clothes were cool in their own bizarre, high fashion way. The theme was ‘Time After Time’ – I don’t think I’m of the calibre to determine how any of the clothes related to this but I did, however, like an oversized silk blue blazer and a tiered black ball gown. That is as far as I can really comment on the clothing. Oh, and there were some really odd pieces of course: the string- trouser, neon-half-hoodie and topless-with-scarf looks spring to mind.

These huge amounts of money were being called out like they were pennies, ‘DO I HEAR TWO HUNDRED POUNDS… FOUR HUNDRED AND FIFTY, SIR… IS THAT FIVE HUNDRED FROM THE BACK?’

I concede that I am not fashionable or otherwise knowledgeable enough to make sense of such things. In all likelihood, others present marvelled at the artistry of the clothes which defied the conventions of material and gender. I wonder whether the same could be said for the underwear show.

Before we go there, I have to get this whole auction affair off my chest because I am completely torn. These huge amounts of money were being called out like they were pennies, ‘DO I HEAR TWO HUNDRED POUNDS… FOUR HUNDRED AND FIFTY, SIR… IS THAT FIVE HUNDRED FROM THE BACK?’. The atmosphere turned to one of extreme discomfort for me, with one host suggesting that those ‘Surrey Girlies’ might use Daddy’s money for bidding tonight, and the other chiming in with the equalising ‘or those of you who’ve been working at the college bar all year’. Of course, these remarks were made in jest not malice but it made me squirm.

I don’t think it’s brilliant to normalise extreme wealth in student culture. We’ve got a Student Union intent on changing the Durham image and making culture commissions, and we’ve also got thousands of students gathering to bid hundreds presented as petty cash. Naturally, we are all free to spend the money we have on whatsoever we choose. I am sure I spend too much of mine on takeaways. This is not the point I wish to make. If you have the means and desire to bid at charity auctions, go for it. My problem isn’t with the bidders but with the bidding process itself. It was icky to say the least.

I feel embarrassed admitting this. It was for a good cause, really good. The show raises an enormous amount for their chosen charity and that is undeniably wonderful to see. All those things that caused me discomfort led to massive sums raised. Should I really be arguing with that?

As long as money was raised, a difference will be made to families in the North East in the near future

This is where the tension of the fashion show lies, I suppose. Sat beside me, someone said that the charity video killed the mood. They weren’t wrong – it was a sudden adjustment from booming music, sexy stances and strobe lights. But the charity aspect was the point of it all, wasn’t it? Was it? And, even if the show mostly felt at odds with the charitable message, did this even matter? As long as money was raised, a difference will be made to families in the North East in the near future. Again, that is undeniably moving.

And so DUCFS continues to perplex me. It does good, but is it good? Maybe. The underwear show was similarly confusing. Yes, it was fun and funny, a lighter way to end and some of the students modelling broke character for a moment or two. Well, at first it was amusing and then it was weird. I couldn’t help but notice all the guys suddenly rushing forward. I’d say this array of sweaty spectators gawping at near-naked bodies was a little less hard to read than other parts of the show.

The feminist in me argues with herself about how this is exactly the right of every person onstage to show off their body as much as they want to, but also was it a bit male gaze-y?

The feminist in me argues with herself about how this is exactly the right of every person onstage to show off their body as much as they want to, but also was it a bit male gaze-y? Arguably, all were being objectified equally since the guys strutted out in tight boxers. I think we can agree however that this does not perpetuate the exact same roles and expectations as the lingerie line.

Ugh, my brain hurts. Can a charity fundraiser be both grating and worthwhile? Probably. Can a student underwear catwalk be both fun and alarming? It would seem so. I can say for certain that I am glad I attended the fashion show. It’s surreal, confusing and amusing moments have given me enough to think about until next year’s one, if I go.

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