Cambridge's best college gowns

Andrew Jameson weighs up these swishy staples in his latest column

Illustrations by Jess Beaumont

Hello and welcome to another review of some niche thing that will probably leave you feeling a mixture of mild amusement and indifference. This time, by popular request (yes, I did actually receive a response from my last plea for ideas!), the trusty old review formula is being applied to gowns.

But before we begin, I thought I’d share this sentence I found on Cambridge’s website during my very thorough investigative journalism:

“The BA gown is made of black “stuff” (ie black fabric other than silk) and has long, wide open sleeves like a wizard's robe.”

Not only do I enjoy the particularly descriptive name of “stuff” but I also greatly appreciate that they liken it to a “wizard’s robe” – might as well embrace the Hogwarts image I suppose.

However, as delightful as this is, this review will be solely concerned with the undergraduate gowns. What’s the difference? Well, interestingly, the undergraduate gowns are just slightly shorter than the BA gowns. I’m realising now that maybe “interestingly” doesn’t apply.

First up is Emmanuel’s gown which has some slightly strange rectangular panels on its front. In my eyes they look a little like chocolate bars – you may disagree – and while a chocolate bar is generally considered to be a good thing, despite the negative health and dental consequences, I’m not sure I really want two sown onto the front of my gown. Maybe that’s just me.

6.8 / Chocolately gownness?

The St John’s gown has four stripes on the sleeves. I don’t think they look very nice. And as these reviews don’t make any attempt to get in the ballpark of objectivity, that’s all we say about it.

4 / I don’t like the stripes

But how could I write this review without mentioning the Caius and Trinity

gowns? I’m going to group them together because they’re quite similar. You may point out that all the gowns are quite similar but I’m going to ignore that. Both gowns depart from the classic black and go wild with the colour spectrum by opting for a dark shade of navy. I do generally like navy but I’m not sure it quite works on a gown. While they are being grouped together I will divulge that, for me, the Caius gown does just edge above Trinity purely because it has a velvet black trim rather than just a black trim. I know. Crazy.

7.9 / Out of the blue (gown)

Lastly, we have the Corpus Christi gown which is primarily plain but importantly with a velvet trim down the sides. You may ask why that’s important. I mean, it’s not in the grand scheme of things but in this particular review it makes the difference between a dull gown and a nice gown.

8.6 / I think I just like velvet on gowns to be honest

So there we go! Wasn’t that an enriching use of all our time? Anyway I hope you enjoyed this review of some “wizard’s robes” that all essentially look the same. If you’ve seen anything around Cambridge that made you think: “Wow, if only some random person with very limited reviewing skills could write a short and broadly inconclusive article about this,” then let me know – I’d be happy to comply.