Mortar Boards, Gowns, And Bow Ties To Be Abolished At Oxford University?

While mortar boards, gowns, and bow ties have been a centuries-old tradition at auspicious British universities like Oxford, a new initiative is set to ban them, as they have been deemed to be “elitist.”

A referendum being held at the Oxford University Students’ Union on Wednesday will give students the chance to decide on the future of the attire on the campus, and the first question will ask, “should students at Oxford continue to be required to wear ‘subfusc’ clothing to University Examinations?”

Subfusc is the name given to the clothes, although the university officially defines it as either a dark suit with dark socks, dark skirt with black tights or stockings or dark trousers with dark socks, that is worn with black shoes; a plain white collared shirt or blouse; white bow tie, black bow tie, black full-length tie, or black ribbon and a dark coat in winter.

One undergraduate student at Oxford, Harrison Edmonds, has started a Facebook campaign to save subfusc, and that page has more than 2,400 likes already.

As Edmonds wrote, “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.”

According to Edmonds, subfusc is something that unites, as opposed to dividing people, “Subfusc does not discriminate based on class, fashion, gender or ethnicity. The only differentiation comes from scholar gowns, symbolising academic achievement.”


In telling reporters about a similar referendum at Cambridge University, Edmonds added a few statements.

“Cambridge had a similar referendum, with academic dress becoming non-compulsory. The pressure to conform led to it dying of 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.”

It remains to be seen what the outcome of the upcoming referendum will be at Oxford, with students divided over whether the tradition of mortar boards and gown is outdated and elitist or if it encourages unity at the institution of higher education.

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