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In the latter part of the nineteenth century, and into the first half of the twentieth century, residential students at both colleges were expected to change their clothes before their evening meal. At Royal Holloway, dinner time became a rather formal ceremony which left strong impressions on the memories of the students.
A Royal Holloway student from the 1930s described the ritual which was followed each evening and the style of dress which was worn during her time there. (RHC/RF/132/5) Transcript
At least once in their college career, Royal Holloway students would receive an invitation to dine at the High Table with the Principal. A student from 1912–1915 recalled how:
“This naturally was the occasion for a new dress, evening, if funds would allow”. (RHC/RF/132/4).
The Royal Holloway dining hall, c. 1897 RHC/PH/271/2
At Bedford College, the dress code was the same. A student who joined in 1912 recalled how:
“For dinner we changed into a dress and on Saturdays when there was dancing we were expected to have an evening dress”.
There was also a ‘slum’ table for those who were not properly ‘dressed’ to sit at (BC/RF/140/2).
In more recent times, Royal Holloway Principal Marjorie Williamson (1962-1973) continued to provide a special occasion for the students to dress up, with the annual Year Dinners. In her reminiscences, she remembered how:
“The men took to dressing up, frilly shirts and things” (RHC/RF/132/8).
RHC Acc. No. 15/06; 1970s
At Royal Holloway during the 1940s, the tradition of dressing formally for evening meals was waning and some students wanted a complete end to the tradition. A student from 1941-1943 recalled:
“The old custom of wearing long gowns and processing to dinner had almost been dispensed with, but still persisted during the summer term on Saturday or Sunday. Some of us felt it was a bit pretentious in the days of clothes rationing and insisted on wearing ‘short’ even to the obligatory coffee with the Principal or at High Table. Tut! Tut!” (RHC/RF/132/7).
It was the Principal, Miss Bacon (1935-1944) who continued to insist on 'dressing for dinner' and the same student said Miss Bacon did this to show that:
"'Hitler is not going to get us down', but to many of us it seemed very old-fashioned” (RHC/RF/132/7).
In 1965 male undergraduates were admitted to Royal Holloway and this increase in student numbers meant the end of formal evening meals. However, students were still expected to dress smartly for the Year Dinners, although some preferred a more casual look. At these events, a member of staff had the responsibility to maintain the standard of dress, and he recalled:
“I didn’t care if they wore short or long skirts, but as long as they looked reasonable. But I objected to jeans coming in and this sort of thing – this was special and ought to be special. Most of the men wore suits. One or two of the girls tried to come in bare footed and things like that” (RHC/RF/132/3).