What Cambridge students wear: A fresher’s interpretation

Still clueless

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Life moves pretty fast in Cambridge. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been exposed to what feels like a bazillion dress codes and I’m still trying to understand what exactly they mean (because it’s always so much more specific than it seems). This is what I’ve figured out so far.


Students wear all sorts of stuff in Cambridge – it’s a very accepting place. Some are all kitted out in vintage, some go all out goth and most people just wear ‘normal’ clothes, whatever that means. But there are three styles that have stood out to me over the past few weeks.

The first and most widespread is probably a 90s inspired kind of Normcore. It’s a unisex look – oversized vintage-looking sweatshirt, jeans, usually black skinny or baggy stonewash, and of course the all too ubiquitous Stan Smith. Or if you’re too cool to conform, some other pair of “sneakers”. It seems that the uglier the shoe is, the cooler you are for wearing it.

The second most popular look is characterised by a Barbour jacket, either of the quilted variety or the classic waxed. These are generally worn with a cable knit sweater and skinny-ish jeans or, more typically, chinos, plus Russell and Bromley’s loafers or Chelsea boots. Again, this can be worn by any gender, though if you’re sporting this look, it’s unlikely that you recognise more than two.

Oh, Mark <3

Then we have what I like to call Mathmo Chic. Ill-fitting blue jeans, “sensible” shoes, a Jansport (or some other backpack of that variety) and a hoody – never with a zip. They’re so clever they don’t need to care.


Guess the college…

Prior to Cambridge, my entire understanding of the word ‘bop’ came from Sharpay’s fabulous performance in HSM. Here, however, they’re less about the dancing and more about the costumes (also the getting sozzled but that’s another story). Getting it right is tricky.

The general rule seems to be that even though everyone tries incredibly hard, we all have to make it seem as though it’s effortless. Super-elaborate outfits are therefore a no-go, but no costume is no fun. The best ones I’ve seen so far are the ones that are clever and amusing but require little execution, as in the photo above.


Bin bag vibes

Just so we’re clear, formal is not black tie. It’s about one step down on the formality scale.  What you’d wear for business. Except that, like everything else, it’s different at Cambridge. ‘Formal’ is a meal here, held in Hall where we eat. You wear a gown, which isn’t a dress, but a kind of billowy black cape that’s open at the front. Very Hogwarts. The first formal we had was held after matriculation, where most of us went for the awkward work-experience-kid-in-an-office look – all sober-toned dresses and flats.


Before it all went downhill…

Balls are black tie (unless they’re white tie of course). So far, I’ve only attended the one organised by the Union for freshers: free tickets and lots of fun. Some wore short dresses with mid-height chunky heels. Some wore long dresses and stilettos, which they invariably ended up taking off at the end of the night. Neither was a recipe for elegance, but nobody cared.

People are surprisingly non-judgemental here. Apart from me. But that’s just what I do.