The Freshers' Guide

Dress Codes

When at Cambridge, you will be invited to a large number of events, often with some kind of dress code. Here's a quick guide to expected dress, according to the dress code written on the invitation or in the e-mail.

There is no specified dress code or accepted convention for general daywear, attending lectures or sitting examinations - feel free to wear whatever you like (within legal limits!). A few formal university and college situations will require you to wear the correct gown if you choose to attend and are entitled to do so - university Discussions or other meetings in Senate House, College Council meetings in college, and most formal dinners in Hall. When wearing a gown, you are generally required to also be smartly dressed - the college rules provide some guidelines on what clothing is suitable in combination with a gown, but you should usually assume "smart".


Example: the Graduate Tutor's Suppers in the Old Library usually have this dress code.
You should feel free to dress as you choose for this dress code, though sometimes jeans or trainers/sportswear might be inappropriate. Men usually to wear a dress shirt with a blazer or jacket, but a tie is typically not expected.

Smart (often with the addition of "with gowns")

Example: Matriculation Dinner and Formal Halls have this dress code.
Men would be expected to wear a suit (with jacket) and tie. Ladies would be expected to dress equally smartly. Where "with gowns" in specified you must wear the appropriate gown. At Formal Halls in College, the dress code is always "smart, with gowns" unless otherwise specified.

Black Tie (occasionally with the addition of "with gowns")

Example: Graduation dinner is 'black tie with gowns'. Some special MCR Guest Night meals are black tie, but without gowns. Most college May Balls and many other formal events also require black tie.
You will inevitably get invitations to black tie events whilst in Cambridge. The suit, bow-tie, cummerbund and shirt can be hired in Cambridge for around £40, but it is often worth owning your own outfit, as hire costs quickly mount up. Graduates from abroad often find it cheaper to buy at home, rather than in Britain. This is particularly the case for graduates from the United States.

Ladies wear cocktail dresses.

Garden Parties / Blazers

Example: there are many Garden Parties during May Week in Cambridge (which, perversely, takes place in June). The dress codes for these varies, but 'blazers' is common.
Men tend to wear a blazer, tie (very optional!) and chinos/smart trousers. Alternatively, summer suits. Ladies tend to wear summer dresses.

White Tie

No events at Sidney Sussex routinely specify white tie, and it's quite unlikely you will need this formal a suit whilst in Cambridge. Exceptions include a couple of other College's May Balls (e.g. Magdalene). More details on what's expected and how to hire will usually be provided by the ball's organizers.

Fancy Dress

Fancy dress normally comes with a theme. Use your imagination! In past times, 'fancy dress' was used to refer to black tie, but this is no longer common usage. If in doubt, check.

Freshers' Guide last modified: 1 November 2017
This section last modified: 22 February 2013