Harrison Edmonds is an undergraduate at University College who started an online campaign to save sub fusc earlier this month. At the time of writing, the campaign’s page Facebook page has received over 1,000 ‘likes’.
Whilst many may sneer at subfusc as old-fashioned or anachronistic, I and many others feel that a positive case can be made for the mortarboard and gown. During my collections this term, wearing a gown helped to focus and inspire me. The gown represented hundreds of years of history. To think that I had earned a part in that heritage filled me with pride and self-confidence. To know I shared that heritage with the others in the room filled me with even more confidence. Subfusc, being smarter and more historic than just a gown, could help put me in the right mind-set for the more nerve-wracking Prelims.
Sub fusc is worn at the three most important parts of a student’s academic career at Oxford: matriculation, examinations and graduation.
There is something about donning special clothes for special occasions that can help get you in the right mind-set. A study by the US Northwestern University has identified an ‘enclothed cognition’, where the clothes worn by an individual, and their cultural and social significance, helps boost the wearer’s concentration and performance. And what has a greater social and cultural weight or significance to an Oxford student than subfusc?
Some of my fellow students have expressed similar support for subfusc. Emma Moyse, an Ancient and Modern History Finalist at Merton, told me that subfusc’s “uniformity and structure” helps to reduce the “jitteriness and anxiety” that comes from her bipolar disorder, adding: “There is still room for being subversive; I’ve worn combat boots with it!”
Indeed, the subfusc dress code is not set in stone. In 2012, gender restrictions on clothing were dropped, and white bow ties can be replaced with black bow or neck ties. Even in the Exam Schools, students are allowed to take off the gown, jacket and the tie, so that they are comfortable for the exam.
Subfusc is also relatively inexpensive.
The gown and mortarboard cost about £20, but can be cheaper, and if you are in a position where you can’t afford the cash, the chances are your College or the University as a whole would give you aid. If they don’t, that is something that OUSU and the JCR should push for them to provide. It is not an argument for getting rid of Subfusc or gowns.
Subfusc also encourages a community spirit between Colleges. If we see someone going down the High Street in subfusc with a carnation, we know what they’re up to, and some of us may even wish them luck on the way, which could help lift their spirits. At the very least, it means that we know that we shouldn’t try to obstruct them while they’re on their journey to the Examination Schools. Subfusc symbolises the shared experiences that as Oxford students we must all undertake, and if we stopped wearing it for exams, that sense of community would also be lost.
That community is in fact strengthened by subfusc. It is the closest thing that we have to a uniform, even if it does make us look like dapper penguins. Subfusc does not discriminate based on class, fashion, gender or ethnicity. The only differentiation comes from scholar gowns, symbolising academic achievement. In that sense, it is the perfect item of clothing for exams, which a designed to judge solely on academic merit.
So vote for subfusc in exams, because in doing so, you are supporting the heritage and benefits that otherwise could be lost.
The article arguing against compulsory sub fusc can be found here: