Benefit and burden
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In her reminiscences, a Royal Holloway student from 1908 – 1911 recalls how:
“Hair could be bundled up anyhow under one’s cap and the gown could cover a multitude of omissions below” (RHC/RF/132/3).
Another Royal Holloway student from the 1940s recalled how her gown allowed her to rebel a little:
“We wore gowns to lectures and have been known to appear with gowns over pyjamas – I think it was bravado” (RHC/RF/131/11).
A letter printed in the November 1947 edition of the Bedford News argued in favour of wearing gowns. (BC/AS/203/1/4)
This pro-gown propaganda appeared in the Bedford News in 1951 (BC/AS/203/1)
Others found them to be a nuisance…
In response to the letter above, this reply from a science student featured in the December 1947 edition (BC/AS/203/1/5).
At Royal Holloway College, as soon as they left morning Chapel - at which academic dress was compulsory - the students quickly discarded their gowns in the rush to get to breakfast. A member of domestic staff who worked at the College in the 1930s recalled how the students:
“Left their caps and gowns in the corridor and after breakfast, perhaps an hour after it finished, there were as many caps and gowns left. They were confiscated and they had to get them out next day and had to pay a six pence fine" (RHC/RF/132/7).
As time progressed, the wearing of academic dress declined. A male Royal Holloway undergraduate who was part of the first intake of men in 1965 recalled how:
“Quite a lot of chaps, including myself, sported a gown for most of the first term…But the novelty soon wore off and I suppose it was a time of social change and gowns, by and large, apart from a few determined types, mostly women, readily died out. Certainly before I’d finished there. But for the first year or so they were quite common. It must have looked a bit odd for people living between Kingswood and the college to see these chaps walking down, cycling down with their gowns on”. (RHC/RF/132/8)