Cambridge should scrap Black tie

RONAN MARRON tells us why it’s about time we had a liberation of men’s fashion, and overhauled Black tie dress codes

Cambridge Cambridge Union Cambridge University fashion May Ball Tab the tab Union

When it comes to men’s fashion, Black tie dress codes severely limit men’s self expression, and this needs to change.

The Cambridge Union Society’s Fresher’s Ball is certainly among the social highlights of the Michaelmas term.

Tickets are widely sought after by the droves of newfound members of this world renowned debating society. I am one of them. Many of my female friends have already started talking fashion, a subject from which I have never been known to shy.

I happily dispense advice to them. But what should I wear?

The dress code is “Black tie”. I have a penis / y-chromosome / am male.

These two facts in combination leave me with an incredibly small spectrum of fashion in which to work.

Black tux, black bow tie, white shirt, black shoes. Mild variations on the fabrics and fitting, but that is where the element of choice ends.

Looking at these outfits I feel like I’ve been forced back to black and white TV. Give me some colour!

Where is the colour?!

Where is the colour?!

There are certain restrictions for women at these events as well. I am aware of that.

But they can be bold with colours and prints. They can experiment with necklines. Fundamentally it boils down to the fact that they can be themselves to a much greater degree.

For me, that is what fashion is about. Clothes fulfil many a function.

They are practical, they help us interpret social situations, and they may preserve our modesty.

But Fashion in itself is more than just clothes. It’s about an outward expression of who we are; a material presentation of our internal taste and style.

Fashion is and should be about us, whoever we may be.

A female at the Ball exercising her freedom of self expression.

A female at the Ball exercising her freedom of self expression.

Now I understand that a solid percentage of men enjoy getting suited up for traditional or formal occasions such as The Fresher’s Ball.

I’m not some camp dictator who wants to make people parade around in lurid shades of pink and green. I don’t want to ban the suit. In fact occasionally, I even wear one.

But I resent the idea that there is no freedom for those with more ‘out-there’ outfits in mind.

The Union Ball in itself was not as strict as I imagined. Yet I wonder whether admission to most formal black tie events would even be possible for those outside the dress code.

Even if it were, I suspect that there would be at least a quiet condemnation on the part of other guests.

I recently asked a friend of mine (a black tie fan) about this. He replied “Why are you so determined to be different?” I fear that many view nonconformity to dress codes as some kind of egocentric statement.

The Freshers Ball

The Union Society’s Fresher’s Ball

The desire not to wear a suit is not, for me at least, some desperate ploy for attention.

It is more about being granted the same licence for self-expression as female counterparts, whether we want to use it or not.

At the moment, things seem to boil down to a choice: wear something I am not comfortable with, or feel uncomfortable anyway because of other people’s judgement.

Honestly, I don’t see what damage would be done from relaxing traditional rules of fashion and formality.

Would it be the end of the world if a handful of men didn’t wear tuxes to a hyper formal May Ball? Of course not.

I think we need a liberation in men’s fashion. This doesn’t mean changing the way men dress. Men like their clothing in general.

It means society making more space for new and different ideas about the clothes that men wear.