De-gendering academic dress at Oxford

Subfusc” refers to the clothes worn with full academic dress in Oxford.  Our students must wear subfusc for formal occasions including University examinations.

Following a campaign led by OUSU’s LGBTQ Officer Jess Pumphrey, gender references will now be removed from the stipulations of subfusc. This means that students will not be required to wear specific clothing based on their gender. Until now, gender-specific differences relating to the wearing (or not) of tights, skirts, types of tie and blouses vs shirts were in force.

This change was approved by the University Council and published in the University Gazette last Friday, and should be effective from Saturday 4 August.

The new subfusc requirements shall be as follows:

All members of the University are required to wear academic dress with subfusc clothing (and candidates who are not members of the University are required to wear formal clothing) when attending any university examination, i.e.

  • a dark suit with dark socks, or a dark skirt with black stockings or trousers with dark socks and an optional dark coat;
  • black shoes;
  • plain white collared shirt;
  • a black tie or white bow tie.

“Dress should be such as might be appropriate for formal occasions.
Candidates serving in HM Forces are permitted to wear uniform together with a gown. (The uniform cap is worn in the street and carried when indoors.)

In practice, this means that, whatever their gender, from 4 August onwards students can choose for themselves whether to wear a skirt or trousers or suit, and whether to wear the black string tie or the white bow tie. There will no longer be any enforced distinction in subfusc between genders.

From a practical point of view, students who were not attired according to the rules ran the risk of being refused entry to sit their examinations, as well as the potential for embarrassment or ridicule. As well as enabling equality for trans students, this change in the rules will allow all students to dress in the style of subfusc that they find comfortable.

I’m really glad this change has been made, and well done to all those who campaigned to make it happen.

See also:

OUSU passes motion for ‘more inclusive’ sub fusc Cherwell

Changes to sub fusc rules ahead The Oxford Student

Regulations relating to Academic Dress made by the Vice-Chancellor, as Authorised by Council which at the time of writing is displaying the previous rules

The Gender Inclusion Campaign blog – “campaigning for gender neutrality at the University of Oxford”



  1. Well done Oxford. I wonder if/when Cambridge will follow suit. We don’t have subfusc per se over here, and there are no rules about what must be warn to exams, but the rules on graduation dress are very specific and definitely gendered.

  2. Thanks for this. I loved subfusc when at Oxford, except for the horrible hat thing that women had to wear instead of a mortarboard – that obviously died a death long ago (I’ve probably still got mine somewhere!)

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