Sub fusc, a term derived from the Latin ‘sub fuscus’ meaning ‘dark’ or ‘dusky,’ refers to the traditional academic attire required at Oxford University for a range of formal occasions.
As a new student, you’ll need to wear sub fusc under your gown for events such as matriculations, degree ceremonies, and end-of-year exams, as well as for Formal Hall dinners, although the exact requirements may vary by college.
This distinctive dress code is a deeply rooted aspect of Oxford’s history and heritage, symbolizing the academic unity and tradition of the institution. While there are specific guidelines to follow, Oxford’s policy allows for personal expression within these rules, accommodating all students irrespective of gender.
Understanding what sub fusc is and its significance will be an integral part of your Oxford journey, ensuring you are appropriately dressed for some of the most memorable and important moments of your university life.
What should I wear?
- A collared plain white blouse or shirt (collars are essential).
- A dark suit with dark socks
- Dark trousers with dark socks
- A dark skirt (the recommendation from the university is for it to be at or around the knee) with dark tights or stockings
- Black shoes
- A black ribbon, or a black/white bow tie or straight black long tie
- A dark coat/jacket if desired (to be worn underneath the gown)
- Mortar Board/ Soft Cap (not always worn, but carried)
You will also need the appropriate academic gown and a mortar board or soft cap.
There are two types of gown:
The “undergraduate gown” or “commoners’ gown,” is for undergraduate students. The gown doesn’t have sleeves and will fall to around your hip.
When ordering, you will be asked for your height as they are measured in length only.
The postgraduate gown also has no sleeves and should finish at the knee. Both these gowns should be worn open at the front.
There are exceptions to the rules of which gown should be worn; for example, if you are an organ scholar or get a distinction in Preliminaries at the end of your first year, then you would be entitled to wear a scholars’ gown. This is a more traditional gown – it has sleeves and is knee length.
Graduate students wear the advanced students’ gown which is jacket length sleeveless.
Where can I buy sub fusc?
Sub fusc can be hired but we recommend you buy it as it will need to be worn on multiple occasions.
When do I need to wear it?
The first time you will probably be required to wear it is at your matriculation ceremony, at the end of the first week in your first Michaelmas term. This is the formal process of entering the university and filing your intent to attend! You will need to wear full sub fusc, including your gown and carry your mortar board.
Usually, the next time you will wear sub fusc is for your preliminary exams, which are usually taken at the end of the first year. This can vary slightly – for example, if you are doing classics you will have ‘mods’ during your second year when you will wear your sub fusc. You will also wear it for finals. Sub fusc is not required for collections.
There are other exams you will need to wear full sub fusc for, such as music recitals, oral exams/ vivas and presentations. For these events you will have to wear a commoners’ gown even if you are a scholar! Having said that, you will be allowed to remove your gown or tie for the actual exam, but you must wear full sub fusc to and from the exam or you will not be allowed to sit it!
The final time you will be required to wear full sub fusc is for your degree ceremony. During the ceremony you may change your academic gown and hood; for example, if you are graduating with your Bachelors, or Undergraduate Masters you will start by wearing your BA gown and then a hood will be added at a later stage, as part of the ceremony. You will be told all of this by your college beforehand, so don’t be alarmed! When you are inside you are required to carry your mortar board; when you are outside you may wear it. The exciting moment to finish off 3 years of study is the celebratory toss into the air!
What are the variations on sub fusc requirements?
- A suit may have pinstripes but the stripes must be dark – black or grey.
- You can tie your velvet ribbon in a bow or hanging down.
- Bow ties are usually bought pre-tied and adjustable. You can also purchase a self-tie bow tie, but you might need to practice beforehand! They usually come with instructions!
What size mortar board do I need?
If you are going to order online, you will need to measure the circumference of your head just above your ears. Don’t worry if when it arrives it’s too big as you can pop into the shop in Oxford and change it!
So that’s it! For any questions or help, please do come and visit us, in store or take a look at our website