Sartorial Tutorial: Men’s fashion in Cambridge

Ariel Yuqing Luo 8 February 2016

Academics are not known for dressing well. Although the day of the ill-fitting tweed jacket is mercifully done, its hallmarks – bad tailoring, wine stains, and want of an iron – still manifest on one particular, peculiar occasion: Formal Hall. This hallowed tradition of fine dining, and less-fine wines, gowns and gentility forces the average Cambridge student to dress up far more often than they might do otherwise. As such, Cambridge formals are full of fancy fuck-ups. Despite the rarified atmosphere, candlelight, port-passing, and enough airs and graces to give Lady Grantham a fit of the vapours, you’ll still find plenty of men in attendance who look like they’ve not changed clothes since they left school, and have resorted to using their shirt as a tablecloth. Still more numerous are suits that aren’t dirty, but are just boring – stolid charcoals, and funeral blacks – paired with shirts and ties that attest to a greater love for neutral tones than Thomas Hardy. The twin specters of apathy and fear bedevil many a hapless young gent, getting ready for a night out under the wood paneling.

All this has lowered everyone's expectations. Once, when I attended a seminar just before a formal hall, a colleague looked at how I was dressed – a blue TM-Lewin one-button slim-fit suit, blue monkstraps, with a matching pin-dot tie and pocket square – and with an expression of extreme surprise, she asked if I was going to a wedding. Sigh.

What you miss, when you reach for the tinfoil two-piece you bought from C&A, is a big visual cue, saying “Hello everyone! I think you’re worth all this effort!” People will respond in kind. In fact, formal is one of the best opportunities to make an impression – suits are designed to make you look great, regardless of your build.

But that said you don’t need to cling to a dress code like it’s driftwood in a furious sea. There’s been a real revolution in men’s tailoring in recent years, as – fuelled by shorter supply chains and easier marketing – there’s now far more choice and excitement out there that’s totally affordable. You can rebel against stuffy semi-formality by showing off your personality and looking great, rather than just going at the whole thing half-cocked. Instagram is replete with examples of dapper guys with excellent taste – whether you go bright and bold like @meeeotch or utterly classic like @jasperrebel. Get creative, and find your style. So whenever guys complain about formalwear, I say this: pipe down, branch out, and suit up!