Oxford University students’ are taking a vote next week on whether to continue the centuries-old custom of wearing mortar boards, gowns and bow ties for exams.
Known as subfusc, the formal academic dress has been criticised as being ‘medieval’, with critics arguing that it contributes to the perception of Oxford University as ‘elitist’ and ‘unwelcoming’. Whilst those in favour are hailing the custom of subfusc as an ‘institution worth saving’.
The first question being asked is ‘should students at Oxford continue to be required to wear sub fusc clothing to University Examinations?’
Subfusc is defined by Oxford University as either a dark suit with dark socks, or dark skirt with black tights, or stockings or dark trousers with dark socks, worn with black shoes. A plain white collared shirt or blouse, with a choice of white bow tie, black bow tie, black full-length tie or black ribbon and a dark coat – if required.
In 2012 the University dropped gender restrictions, meaning that students of either sex can wear historically male or female clothes, or a combination of the two. White bow ties can also now be replaced with black bow or neck ties.
According to undergraduate student Harrison Edmonds, subfusc ‘fostered a community spirit between colleges’. “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.”
Mr Edmonds added that subfusc is ‘perfect’ for exams which are ‘designed to judge solely on academic merit’.
Mr Edmonds told The Mail Online: “Cambridge had a similar referendum, with academic dress becoming non-compulsory. The pressure to conform led to it dying there, and Cambridge still has the same image problems Oxford has. Indeed, no studies or evidence has been gathered on whether subfusc in exams puts off potential applicants.
“For many, it’s one of the reasons they apply. In fact, my friends at other universities across the country have told me that they wish that they had equivalent clothing.”
Critics such as student George Gillett argue that subfusc ‘contributes to perceptions of Oxford as structurally elitist and unwelcoming’.
“When confronting widespread accusations of social and economic elitism, a good place to start might be to stop forcing students to wear medieval attire.
“It represents the very worst of Oxford students and our self-important desperation to be recognised as successful, academic and distinguished,’ adding that there were other ways for the university to set itself apart”, he added.