When you attend the University of St Andrews, traditions will undoubtedly be a big part of your life. The university historically relies on those traditions to keep a tight-knit group of students and alumni to feel like they belonged and still belong to this community.
When I first got into St Andrews, my first instinct was to read everything about the university, learning its history and its traditions. Having been a student ambassador and therefore tour guide during visiting days, I have also talked countless times about our traditions, which is one of the biggest appeal of the university.
It is in fact so well-known for its quirky traditions that on solstice last year when we had a massive bonfire (and by massive I mean pretty much everyone we knew was on the beach that night) some tourists stopped us on our way down to the beach to ask if this was part of any university traditions. It wasn’t, but we appreciate your keenness!
I started writing this post with 6 traditions that are famous and also awesome and it was soooo long. I therefore thought I’d do it in 3 parts. The first one is based on the scarlet gown. You can find the second post on academic families here and the third one on may dip here.
The Sallies chapel is home of the Sunday morning service (among other things, of course). Lots of students attend wearing the very representative scarlet gown and after the service a procession starts heading down North Street all the way to the pier. It is perhaps the only tradition that I did not partake in (mainly because I do not attend church and because Sunday mornings are meant for sleeping in my opinion). It is nonetheless a tradition that represents the university. That is why I am mentioning it today, because it is an iconic image that now represents St Andrews. Not only does the image tells something, but the procession also represents a lot of what the university stands for, the importance community and collegiality is to this institution.
This brings us to the tradition of the Scarlet Gowns
The scarlet gown is also very representative of the university. Just like in Oxbridge, it’s not unusual to walk down the street in St Andrews and see students wearing gowns. The story of the red gown started long ago when the town wanted to make it easier to spot students who would enter pubs but were not of age. It is still, to the day, illegal to serve alcohol to a student wearing a red gown. The rules of the town also still state that 3 red gowns make a procession (we loooove processions!) and therefore traffic should stop. Random I know! It is worn to every kind of formal event like hall dinners, weekly debate, exams, giving tours, etc.
Another thing associated with the gown is the affectionally named ‘academic striptease’. In first year, you wear it normally,on top of the shoulders. In second year, you wear it just slightly off the shoulders. In third year, you wear it off the left shoulder if you’re an arts student or off the right shoulder if you’re a science student. Finally, in fourth year, you wear it completely off the shoulders, almost hanging on your elbows, ’cause you’re too cool for school!
Sadly I could not partake in this tradition either as the scarlet gown is for undergraduates only (we also have a lot of curses, and one of them includes wearing a gown that you’re not supposed to be wearing). Postgrads wear the black gown because they already hold a degree. Pictured below is me getting ready to give tours at the university open days.