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More in this section College fashions uncovered

Academic dress

Honour and obligation

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When Royal Holloway and Bedford Colleges were first established, university degrees were not available to women. It was only when the University of London began to confer degrees on women in 1878 that they earned the right as degree students to wear the hat and gown of academic dress. Mixed feelings to these outfits are revealed through the archives. 


In the 1890s, only the Bedford College students who studied at degree level could wear traditional academic dress. A feature in the Bedford College Magazine of June 1898 (BC/AS/200/1/2), questions those who choose not wear it. Transcript 

At Royal Holloway College in May 1903, a meeting was called to consider the proposal that undergraduates of the University of London should wear their gowns to Chapel. The event was recorded as follows:

“The supporters of the motion felt the desirability of wearing the badge of the University to which they belong, in order to shew [sic] that they themselves appreciated the privilege and that outsiders might realise the importance of this College...The opposers of the motion were of the opinion that the non-examination and Oxford people, both now and in the future, would feel themselves slighted at being unable to wear a gown. They felt that it was not right to enforce any additional expense on the students ” (RHC/AS/125/3).

The proposal was carried with 71 votes for and 47 against .


Students wearing gowns in chapel at Royal Holloway. RHC/PH/200/3; 1937

 Following several years of discussion about making academic dress compulsory for Bedford degree students, the Bedford College Senior Student records show that on March 8th 1920 the practise of wearing and gowns became regulated. The records say:

“Students were reminded that from that day onwards it was compulsory to wear gowns at lectures and academic functions” (BC/AS/121/2).

A memorandum added later does mention however, that nuns were exempt from this rule!


Even though the Bedford College students themselves voted in favour of compulsory wear, just one year later in 1921, it became necessary to impose a penalty upon those who were breaking the rules (BC/AS/121/2). Transcript


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