Student Organization Spotlight: Fancy Dress The Fancy Dress committee works year-round to ensure this cherished campus tradition continues.
Washington and Lee’s Fancy Dress has been a night to remember on W&L’s campus for 116 years. On Saturday, March 25, students stepped out in their finest attire and into a cherished W&L tradition as they entered the temporarily transformed Richard L. Duchossois Athletic and Recreation Center for the event.
The theme for 2023’s Fancy Dress was “The Greatest Show.” The gym was decorated to emulate a circus-tent atmosphere, complete with acrobats and a live band.
“The committee had considered a circus theme for a few years now,” said co-chair Emma Smith ’23, who has been a part of Fancy Dress for three years. “When we came across the idea of the Greatest Show, loosely based on the movie ‘The Greatest Showman,’ it seemed like the perfect opportunity to exercise the circus theme while adding a more sophisticated tone.”
Fancy Dress’s executive board consists of the tri-chairs, secretary, treasurer and inclusivity liaison, as well as the chairs of each committee. Emma Smith ’23, Reevie Fenstermacher ’23 and Mary Margaret Greer ’24 served as tri-chairs for this year’s Fancy Dress, overseeing the entire committee and the production of the event. Fancy Dress’s tri-chairs are selected during Spring Term by the Executive Committee. The tri-chairs coordinate committee meetings; oversee subcommittees for marketing, memorabilia, Law School and alumni relations, fundraising, and logistics; and work with W&L staff and outside production staff to produce the event.
Following their appointment, the tri-chairs then select all other leadership positions based on applications from returning members. All interested students are encouraged to apply in the fall. Once students apply, the leadership team conducts a competitive interview process. Each new member of Fancy Dress joins a subcommittee and is involved in the decision-making process for that year’s theme. The current committee consists of 47 members.
Last year, Fancy Dress hosted the event in the newly renovated gym for the first time, since the event had been canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the ongoing pandemic. Before 2020, Fancy Dress had only been canceled twice — during World War II and the Vietnam War.
“Many students had never attended Fancy Dress until last year and were eager to do so,” Smith said. “Being able to see our vision come to life and seeing students enjoying the event is by far the most rewarding aspect. Fancy Dress is one of few social events that includes the whole school — from undergraduates, to law students, to alumni – and it’s such an honor to be in charge of it.”
W&L first began hosting its Fancy Dress event in 1907. The Feb. 9, 1907 issue of The Ring-tum Phi announced the upcoming “Bal Masque” on Tuesday, Feb. 12, promising an “affair … exceptionally pretty and brilliant … and quite an innovation to Lexington society.” Decorations in the gymnasium included evergreen hangings and Japanese lanterns. Silver urns were filled with coffee and chocolate. The crowd danced to the sounds of the VMI orchestra.
“This event is a great example of the leadership skills our students possess that will help them be amazing leaders after leaving us,” said Laura Ulmer, Washington and Lee’s director of student activities. “The conversion of the gym to a gala venue was breathtaking.”
“We work with multiple contacts at the university during the planning process along with the production company,” Smith said. “This doesn’t include the countless number of facilities, public safety and student affairs staff who contribute to the event. It truly is a team effort, and we couldn’t be more grateful for everyone who has helped make this year’s Fancy Dress come to life.”
Follow Fancy Dress on social media to learn more about the organization and get updates on new leadership opportunities involving next year’s event.