Sometimes, when walking past old neogothic-styled colleges with turrets, gargoyles and wall-crawling ivy, it is easy to imagine myself an Oxford student two, three, four, or even five hundred years ago. I am therefore startled when a small crowd of Oxford co-eds looking like pre-Photoshoped pages of last week's fashion magazine pass by, and I suddenly remember I am a student at Oxford in 2009.
When I envisioned the appropriate accoutrements for the vintage bicycle-with-wicker-basket I would ride, button-downs, cardigans, and corduroy blazers came to mind (they are called oxford collars and shirts, afterall...). And it's true. That fashion can be found. Especially among the older upper class whose children attend Magadelen (pronounced Mod'len) or Christchurch (more on the English class culture and its presence and impact at and on Oxford in a later post) and some of the young men walking about very tall and properly. (These people do often carry atache cases (otherwise known by us middle-class folk as brief cases) but, I'm afraid, lack the derby-cocked hat that should be found on their head. It always looks like something is missing.)
Yet, for the young and hot-blooded, Oxford-appropriate dress is altogether a different thing. Whereas in the states where it seems like fashion is always tempered by those who don't read, care, or know about it (or subscribe to a different, more classic fashion altogether), the student generation here seems near-ubiquitously to know what's in and what's out. Big, colorful scarves, some type of boyfriend sweater or fitted jacket, mini jean skirt, black leggings or tights, and ballerina flats, eighties-styled boots or Ugs seem almost the female student uniform. Sometimes a gratuitous pair of skinny jeans is thrown into the mix. But rarely does everything match. I don't really follow men's fashion, but there seems much less deviation from the typical jeans, shirt, sweater combos that outlive ever-changing trends.
And then there is academic fashion, or as one author has called it, shabby professional. Oxford academics, on average, are much more highbrow than their American peers in that their sport coats are often wool or cashmere rather than corduroy, but it is clear that their strengths, which are many, lie elsewhere. (In fact, I wonder if fashion sense and intellect are inversely proportional here...) Unless wearing a full suit, like student fashion, academic fashion rarely matches: it is quite in vogue to wear a tweed green-yellow suit, a red-striped shirt, blue pants, and black socks and shoes.
Yet the fashion I admit to loving most is the traditional, gowned academic dress. In this, all members of the university--undergraduates, graduates, and fellows (what us Yanks would call faculty) are equalized. It always matches, and it is always in fashion. But more on this kind of fashion tomorrow...