What To Wear To Lectures At Uni

What To Wear To Lectures At Uni

The question of what to wear to lectures bothered me a lot in the lead up to university. Having worn school uniform for so long (and then had a strict dress code in sixth form), I wasn’t really sure what to go for.

I think there’s a lot of misinformation out there. There certainly was when I was searching for any information I could find. Personally, I got worried because the Tumblr blog “askacambridgestudent”, usually a very reliable source of info, had said arts students were reasonably dressy, and didn’t tend to go for the bog standard jeans and a t-shirt option. Last week (the day I started writing this post), I saw a viral tweet by somebody who believed college students should dress smartly, because “college is a job and your professor is your boss: impress her”.

(I think this is incorrect and problematic on so many levels, but right now I’m focusing on the basic piece of advice about clothing.)

Now, I’m sure universities vary, and within universities I’m sure different departments have different styles and habits, but the main thing I’ve learned in three years at Cambridge is that nobody cares what you wear to lectures.

I rarely notice what other people are wearing, unless I particularly like it or we accidentally match or something. Nobody seemed to care when I turned up to a medieval Irish lit lecture wearing a Moomin onesie with a leather jacket and boots. Some people turn up in sportswear, others in stylish clothes, and most somewhere in between.

A lot of societies offer stash (e.g. hoodies and t-shirts with their logo on it), and I’ve heard people say that you shouldn’t always wear stash, because like, we get it, you do rowing. But in moderation, it’s definitely okay. I wear my college hoodie all the time because it’s a nice warm snuggly hoodie.

Pictured: me hiding from my dissertation in my college hoodie. Also I look about eight here. I promise I’m an adult.

I think people make more of an effort at the start of the year, and maybe each term begins reasonably dressy, but things quickly deteriorate — and that’s okay. It also takes a bit of time to figure out which lecture rooms are freezing and which are super stuffy, so wear layers until you know whether you’re going to be shivering or dozing. Once you figure it out, you can settle into a pattern.

As long as you’re decent, it’s better to be comfortable than smart. You’ll get more out of a lecture if you’re not constantly distracted by tight waistbands, collars, or other uncomfortable clothes. If that means wearing a Moomin onesie, then whatever: do it. I mean, I’ve been to Co-op in my pyjamas, so I’m probably not the BEST judge of these kinds of things, but honestly, no one at your lectures will care. Unless something’s hanging out that shouldn’t be, they’re unlikely even to notice.

And if people don’t notice in ASNaC lectures, which regularly have fewer than 15 people present (I’ve been in lectures that have literally had three people present), they’re even less likely to notice in normal subjects where you might have a couple of hundred crammed into a lecture hall.

Related: they won’t care what you’ve done with your hair or whether you’re wearing makeup or whether the makeup you’re wearing is actually yesterday’s. The only time anyone’s ever commented on that is when my hair has been unusual (e.g. I changed the colour, or it was super fluffy) or when I was doing something particularly uncharacteristic (I once had to go to some stuff wearing stage makeup because I had a show afterwards, so obviously that was noticeable).

As this picture from first year proves, it doesn’t matter how nicely I dress because I will never tame the fluff.

What I find a lot harder at uni is understanding formal dress codes for events — for “reasonably smart” events I usually go by whether or not an outfit would’ve got me sent home in sixth form, and if not, it’s smart enough. But I did wear bright blue socks with fish on them for matriculation, so smart probably isn’t my forte.

I’m also useless with figuring out when I have to follow gendered dress codes and when I can wear a sort-of suit and whether a non matching jacket is acceptable because I don’t actually have a suit that matches. Formal wear is hard. Gender is hard. Gendered formal wear is impossibl.

So I’m probably not the person to ask about that kind of thing.

“Let’s get down to business — to defeat — the DANES.” How I do formal wear.

But for lectures? Honestly, wear whatever you want. And in case my casual approach to clothing seems unusual or unconvincing, here are some responses to the ridiculous tweet from last week that might reassure you:

So, to conclude:

  • You don’t have to dress smartly for lectures, or follow any particular dress code.
  • You can if you want to, although if you turn up in black tie you’ll probably get some questions / odd looks.
  • Feel free to change it up: if one day you feel like wearing a jacket and chinos that’s cool, if the next day you’re in a onesie, you do you.
    • While I’m a big fan of onesies, I’d probably stay away from pyjamas, just because that looks super lazy, but that’s not necessarily a hard and fast rule. Also, many lecture rooms are hot, so bear that in mind with onesies.
  • As long as all the appropriate parts are covered, I doubt anyone will pay much attention.
  • Uni isn’t a job (even if it might be helpful to treat it like one) and your lecturer isn’t your boss. Plus, they’ll be more impressed by you paying attention and doing the reading than by you wearing a suit.
    • If they care what you wear, they’re not a great lecturer, tbh.
  • Formal wear is confusing and I can’t help you there.

2 thoughts on “What To Wear To Lectures At Uni

  1. Thanks for your post, and the one before on working in summer, they’ve helped tame a little of my worries. I hadn’t thought much about lecture/ class clothing, but science students might have to think about whether their outfit is fit for lab work i.e. will it catch fire and can I actually move about in it, or weather proof if you’re outside looking at plants. Dressing professionally in the lab is the exact opposite of professional wear, stained t-shirts are encouraged!
    This is a bit minor, but I’m confused about formal shoes. I’m a cis girl but I can’t wear heeled shoes or flimsy ballet flats as I have foot drop and would destroy my feet in those shoes. Do you think that clunky black Doc Martens style shoes acceptable to formal events?
    I hope everything goes well starting the new term!

    1. Oh yeah, I definitely don’t think this advice applies for science students, for whom there may be regulations just because of safety. But they’ll probably be given guidance anyway, which makes my advice slightly less necessary.

      I can’t wear heels either and I hate shoes that slip off, so I tend to wear brogues. I probably wouldn’t wear boots, but if you’re thinking of Dr Martens *shoes* (as opposed to boots) then yeah, I don’t think anyone can object. And if they did you could just give a one-line remark about having health reasons for it. Any smart leather lace-up shoes should be fine, though. Your feet are more important than dress codes.

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