I bought my gown last week. I couldn’t help but grin, trying it on: the long robes are probably one of the more peculiar and quintessential images associated with Oxbridge colleges.
Actually, the first time I glimpsed a formal Cambridge robe was in Berzerkley, of all places; one of my undergrad professors was a Cambridge (and Oxford) don, and at graduation he’d ambled onto the stage wearing colorful garments which looked like a cross between a rodeo clown’s outfit and the Vatican Guard uniform. Amidst all our cookie-cutter rental-quality black robes, and the tattered business-class upgrades worn by most Berkeley profs, his outfit was… brilliant.
Americans generally associate gowns only with graduation; here, it was a more important part of your daily outfit, once upon a time. I needed to purchase mine before school starts (T-minus 2 weeks, ack) because it’s still mandated for nightly dinner at Magdalene.
Thankfully, I won’t need to strut about town always looking like Zorro, or a wayward Renaissance Faire vendor – graduate-level gowns are simple, uniform black affairs – and anyhow, I gather it’s a thing to keep stashed in a locker or backpack right until you walk into Formal Hall. Perfect compromise, in my book.