The brief but not so brief OxStu Oxford fashion guide

Image Description: Clothing rail with hanging clothes illustrated under the Bridge of Sighs

So it’s Third week (already?) and you’ve either exhausted the top tier outfits you collected over summer ready to show off at your suitably distanced events or you never quite thought about styling yourself and now you’re surrounded by Oxford’s finest fashion folk. Whatever the reason, you need a wardrobe refresh. Here at the OxStu, we’re gonna give you a short rundown of sustainable, suitable styles to catch the eye of your favourite Teams crush, or get those oh so sought after Oxloves, themed around notably Oxford moments.

Riana: Rewind just under a year, and you’ll find me sat on my bedroom floor contemplating what I was going to stuff (sorry, mum — pack tidily away) into the bags I was taking to Oxford. What was I supposed to take to cover the wide range of possible activities — from lecture to BOPs to Hogwarts-like formals? Should I reinvent my wardrobe and style entirely?  The short answer was no — now, one of my favourite parts of Oxford is that very much reflective of the personalities here, style tends to be often variable and sometimes eccentric. Find below my adaptable style guide for each of the situations you might find yourself in the year to come, and some sustainable ways to kit yourself out and feel ready for whatever the year may throw at you.

Josh: Admittedly, my interest in clothes is more internalised than externalised, so what follows is going to be a lot of what I’d like to wear, but either just don’t suit or are not confident enough to. Nevertheless, going into my third year I’ve been in enough situations to know what has felt good to wear, what’s looked good, and what’s not been so hot or handy. As Riana said, this is going to be very adaptable, but hopefully, there’s something here for you.

Tutorials, Lectures and Labs – i.e. day to day wear

Riana: While the idea of spending an hour with professional tutors can seem daunting, have no fear — wear your jeans, t-shirts, trousers, skirts, dresses — it doesn’t matter, as long as it’s (hopefully!) clean, presentable and makes you feel like you could withstand the most withering of looks. Bear in mind most tutorials take place in rooms originally designed to be heated by an open fireplace and have tiny windows — so be prepared to layer up. Easy to take on and off layers that don’t involve thinking — i.e. sweatshirts and comfy knitted sweaters (for those preppy ivy league vibes), rather than cardigans with lots of buttons — are ideal; the perfect time and place to flaunt some college stash. If you want a sustainable new look for uni, trying turning up or down clothes you already have to give them a fresh look — e.g. pair of jeans turned up for a cropped, contrast cuff look. Alternatively, look for second-hand stuff, on places like Depop which can then be easily personalised by easily changing little details like buttons. Oxford also has its fair share of vintage shops (e.g. Unicorn and the Retro Rooms) for you to explore when you get here.

Josh: Tutorials and lectures can really go two ways, either you get comfy or you go for it. Comfy is very appealing, some jogging bottoms, a college jumper or some sports stash mark you as suitably student without trying too hard, but going too slack might make people think you woke up at 2 pm — maybe you did. Then there’s the other side, being a bit more ‘put together’. Sometimes it feels good to put on something nice, and at the moment lectures (if you have any) can be considered as much a social experience as anything else, so some nice chinos or jeans and your favourite sweatshirt/quarter zip over a t-shirt are just casual enough, while an over-shirt is practical in its warmth but also a bit smarter. For me, something in between strikes the best balance: wear some smarter joggers fair with white trainers you wouldn’t wear to play sport, a good plain or branded sweatshirt (something with a bit of graphics can help switch up otherwise plain attire) layered with your preferred (smarter) coat of choice lets people know you did give your appearance some thought when you decided to be comfortable. Lots of vintage clothing sites will sell branded tracksuits with some sought after 90s styles from Nike, Adidas and more. Check out Gullygarms, Ricksretro, Deadstockofficial, to name a few.

The essay crisis

Riana: The moment you prayed would never come, which actually arrives surprisingly quickly. The nature of an Oxford term means you will almost inevitably have a tragic anagnorisis where you realise you have what can only be defined as ‘not enough time’ to complete a piece of written work. It is time to don your comfiest but respectable clothes – oversized sweatshirts, leggings/comfy jeans, and a massive blanket scarf in the winter months (big enough to wrap yourself in, small enough you can pretend it’s just a scarf) and hunker down in your library of choice.

Josh: Let’s be honest, you’ve been here already (and if not you will be, it’s natural) so why not prepare yourself to look good (if you decide to complete in a shared space) or feel good? Comfort is often key, especially if you’re someone who prefers an early rise to a late night, and the all too overlooked cardigan is a great piece to throw on quickly. Something with a bit of a shawl collar also provides a bit of neck comfort when you inevitably lean back and stare at the ceiling searching for any kind of meaning in the current moment. If you’re someone who likes to embody the mindset they need, putting on a new set of smarter clothes, even as simple as a shirt and chinos, might help you break into a new rhythm (or make you look like a psycho if you leave the library only to return completely redressed).

Going out-out

Riana: Although this might take a hit this term, you might want to bring some night looks nonetheless for bars/drinks with friends. My personal go-to is jeans or trousers with a nice top/bodysuit of your style choice – something bright, fun, cheap and cheerful which can withstand getting thrown in the washing machine once drenched in spilt alcohol is preferable. Keep the footwear flat – platforms and trainers all the way – Oxford is old and thus has a lot of cobbles, which are not kind to feet in any shoes, let alone heels. Bops, which are themed fancy dress, are the perfect opportunity to raid your childhood bedroom and/or utilise the many charity shops around Oxford to find something that just about fits the theme – better still return your unneeded accessories to Oxfam at the end of the year.

Josh: The nightclub dress code for Oxford students seems to be ‘anything goes’ and for Freshers’ yet to experience it, I recommend Park End’s Facebook photos from last year to see what I mean. Full black-tie meets fancy dress and sh*t shirts in a great symposium of absolute incoordination. If you’re struggling, a decent shirt, trousers you won’t cry about if they get stained by drinks, and shoes you definitely don’t wear during the day, plus something warm and easily carried or tied on your waist (if you don’t fancy the cloakroom queues). Never bring a coat that requires a complicated wash, because it will smell of smoke for a long time. If you’re a magic hat person, it might draw a few small compliments but don’t expect to walk away unscathed as it undoubtedly gets flung across the dance floor by some funnyman.

If you’re just hitting the pub, make sure you have a decent coat, because outdoor seating continues all year round in Oxford, and scarf will save your neck while being something you can stuff in a larger pocket. If you need something in a pinch for a themed night, try charity shops first because the kind of single-use item you need has often been used once and then donated by someone else.

Formals, Black tie, white tie

Riana: These are sometimes daunting experiences as a Fresher, especially as you may not have been to anything like them before. Formals don’t actually usually expect particularly formal clothing, especially beyond freshers’ week, and gowns are dependent on college – I brought a couple of middle -ground smart dresses and mini skirts, which got very little use. Sustainably acquiring a gown (which you’ll also need for subfusc) can be done either by purchasing the version made from recycled plastic bottles on the University of Oxford shop website, or if you can find a second hand one from graduating students — these occasionally crop up in Oxfam, but shouldn’t be relied upon to be there by chance, so your best bet is the Oxford Gown Marketplace.

Clothes for black-tie/ white tie can seem initially both expensive and unsustainable – if you can, try looking second hand, reusing your prom dress/outfit if you had one, or visiting the Oxford Ball Gown Swap and Shop page. Only white-tie requires full-length dresses, for black-tie mini and midi length dresses are fine, and generally equally common. Block colours, such as red, black and blue in different forms and materials are among the most common but also most versatile – easily changed for different events with simply the change of accessories. Top tip – if you want to wear heels for a ball/college party, wear them for the first half of the evening/ photos, and always bring flats with you for when your feet inevitably want to torture you.

Josh: I could probably write ‘just buy one good black suit’ and you’d be able to pretty much wear that to everything because let’s be honest we have it pretty easy. Of course, you’ve not read this far if you weren’t somewhat interested in being a bit different. Formals (in the future, or informal formals within your households) are a great occasion to dress up in ways you’ve not had the chance to before. Firstly, it’s always good to ask your mates what they want to wear, because being the only guy in a three-piece when everyone else decided to go for floral shirts isn’t ideal. Colleges often have specific dress codes, but if you’ve got more freedom, a jacket, Oxford shirt and chinos combo with a tie is a smart combo that can be quickly adapted for later in the evening by removing the tie, jacket, undoing a couple of buttons and untucking your shirt. Similarly, a crips two-piece suit, white shirt, no tie and a pocket square look modern but not over the top.

I find at black-tie occasions, people either look uninspired or perfectly suited. Renting is certainly an option, but if you think you’ll need a suit a few times, investing in one isn’t a bad idea. H&M and Moss Bros have some affordable options, and Primark has some very low-cost suits for sitting exams in if you’re planning to be trashed later (you can throw them in the washing machines while most suits are dry clean only). Zara and Mango are better options, as well as local menswear shops like Walters and Sheperd and Woodward, the former go into Sale very regularly for Black tie and more (you’ll find more of it after Christmas since that’s the ‘black-tie’ season).

Someone with an expensive suit that doesn’t fit will look so much worse than a more affordable suit that fits well, so know your body shape. Decent alterations place can easily adjust sleeve length, trouser length, and often waist size on trousers and the jacket, but one thing that can’t be touched is the shoulders, so get those right off the peg! Dedicated menswear shops usually have their own in house alterations person so make sure to ask. Black-tie does have certain etiquette but following these rules isn’t always practical, but it will make you look the part. Dinner suit trousers shouldn’t have belt loops, and often have a cross-grain stripe down the side, while the jacket will have the same style on the lapel. Learning to tie a bow tie will look much better than a clip-on too. I’ve realised I could write a lot here, so I’ll probably save more for another article.

I can’t say too much about white-tie as I’ve never been, but pretty much everyone hires these anyway as most people only wear them once, so just make sure things are the right length and fit (bunched up trouser legs can ruin an otherwise complete look). Sometimes it’s also good to think about your date in all instances, what are they wearing, do you want to match etc: be careful not to mismatch if you’ll be in photos together.

And there we have it, a fairly short (it was quite long but you’re here now) guide to style in a few Oxford-centric situations. We’re happy to take criticism or suggestions, and if anyone wants to write their own ‘style guide’ get in touch!

Image Credit: Holly Woodhead, The Oxford Student