Subfusc is a uniquely Oxford tradition, (Cambridge no longer has an equivalent) involving the wearing of formal clothes to exams, matriculation and degree ceremonies.
The academic dress is named subfusc from the Latin sub fuscus meaning dark brown or ‘of a dark/dusky colour’, and consists of either a dark suit/dark skirt/dark trousers with a dark coat, black shoes, a plain white collared shirt or blouse and a black bow tie, full length tie or black ribbon. On top off this students are required to wear a mortarboard or soft cap and their appropriate college gown.
During exams (in which the gown and mortarboard can be removed) the wearing of carnations is traditional. A white carnation marks your first examination, and then you switch to pink until your final exam, when a red carnation is expected.
Two referendums were held in March and May of this year. The first was to make subfusc non-compulsory and the second was to make the cap and gown worn over it non-compulsory too.
Critics of the attire consider it elitist and outdated, believing that many potential students are put off by it. Nineteen year old Harrison Edmonds, a first year history student at Oxford who lead the ‘Save Subfusc’ campaign, disagreed:
“Subfusc isn’t elitist but is egalitarian. No matter your background, race, class or gender, when you go into exams wearing the gown, you are equal.”
A record 41% of students turned out to vote, the highest turnout on record for any English student union cross-campus vote. In the referendum held by Oxford University’s student union, 75% of students voted to keep subfusc and in a second vote, 78% voted to keep the gown and mortarboard compulsory.
It appears that this is one Oxford University tradition that is, for the time being at least, here to stay.
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