When you think of university students, a few things come to mind. Pot Noodle, Tesco value vodka and general scruffiness. Students have gained a reputation for being (amongst other things) chill, lazy and living to enjoy themselves. However, this archetypal student doesn’t really seem to exist. At least not in St Andrews.
If you go into any St Andrews lecture, (although an International Relations lecture will probably show this best) you will see almost all students dressed to the nines. Not a tracksuit in sight. Occasionally you might see one brave soul in tracksuit bottoms or leggings, but this is atypical amongst the jeans, blazers and Barbour jackets. At other universities, it is common and expected to see student wearing anything from pyjama bottoms to full sportswear as they mix day-to-day activities (sleep being a high priority) with their contact time.
Part of the St Andrews ‘dressed up’ experience often comes with social pressure. There are numerous times I’ve sat next to my friend in a lecture and said ‘I really couldn’t be bothered today’, because it’s such an effort. We don’t dress up because we love going to lectures, or even because we want to impress someone. We dress up because that’s just how it’s done here. Ultimately, it is difficult to break the trend of dressing up for fear of seeming like the odd one out. Others will say that wearing jeans, a button-up shirt and trainers isn’t dressing up at all. However, from personal experience, seeing a lecture room filled with cohesive, well-dressed people is unusual in a university setting. It’s possible this could be the trend of the future. With degrees costing more and more, and housing in St Andrews reaching sky high prices, it’s never been more important to make your education count. By dressing up, and fully getting up, perhaps there’s more chance that the day will be taken seriously.
Interestingly, lectures is probably where we dress up most. Nights out at the Union are chill: you can be dressed up and in heels or wearing leggings and a sweatshirt and nobody will notice either. It is interesting that in the daily climate of professionalism, our evening wear isn’t particularly smart. This is the opposite of the usual university stereotype: grungy during the day, glam at night. This says one good thing about St A- we put the effort in for the day-to-day. And this never hurts when you see the CC photographers roaming around town, as it increases your chances of getting a cheeky pap shot of your outfit.
Maybe this isn’t a bad thing. As much as comfort is key (my everyday mantra), St Andrews prepares you for real-world life. There’s a uniform you are expected to adhere to in business, education, or any industry, just as there’s a uniform that is expected for St Andrews students. This uniform is socially enforced: you see others getting ‘dressed up’ and you then choose to put that extra effort in.
This is a valuable life skill, and teaches you how to look semi-presentable with 10 minutes notice (after you wake up hungover from Sinners and realise you’re running late). However, the social structure of clothing in St Andrews isn’t, and will never be, rigid. The power of the slouchy trousers, tracksuit bottoms, and even pyjamas is unbeatable. Sometimes you just need a day to lounge around and let your hair down.
Your time as a student may well be your last chance to be without a uniform: so make the most of it.