Extreme Gowning

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Mixing ancient tradition with adrenaline rush: Abigail Lovell investigates the latest scarlet movement in St Andrews

To anyone outside of the delightful St Andrews bubble, the obsession with our vibrant scarlet gowns might seem a little, dare I say it, bizarre. Think of the thrill one feels when spotting a brave young soul wandering into Tesco bedecked in their gown attire or when eyeing the shocked face of a golf tourist as a fifth year strolls past, gown spilling casually behind. Whilst students and dons of Oxford and Cambridge might prefer their academic gowns classy and demure, St Andreans revel in the shocking sight of a scarlet gown mingling amongst the crowds on Market Street.

Never has the excitement surrounding the undergraduate gown been more prevalent than this passing year, with the Students Association’s affiliation of the Scarlet Gown Society and the introduction of the charity Extreme Gowning calendar.

Created by St Andrews students as a venture to help fundraise a charity trek to Everest Base Camp in September 2010, the Extreme Gowning calendar provided a competitive arena for thrill-seeking gown wearers throughout the town. Students of the university were asked to submit an image of themselves wearing the gown when partaking in an extreme activity, be it standing on the PH or jumping off the pier (these two did indeed feature in the competition!). The winning entries, as voted for by Facebook followers, were then published in a calendar sold in the last academic year to great success. With alumni requesting multiple copies and over £450 being raised in sales within St Andrews, the calendar helped the 23 students preparing to climb to Everest Base Camp to reach their target of £46,200 for the charity Childreach International. St Andrews students have an excellent history with Childreach International. Two years ago, they raised £97,000 two during the trip ‘Climb Kili for Kids’, and plans for next year’s adventure are currently in progress. The UK children’s charity, set up in 2004, operates in partnership with local communities in Tanzania, Ghana, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh to help improve children’s access to healthcare, education and human rights.

Along the same thread (pun intended!), the hugely popular Scarlet Gown Society established itself through a constantly growing Facebook group towards the end of last semester, born out of an idea by the Philosophy lecturer Jens Timmerman. Alongside many gown themed socials, the society partakes in weekly pier walks following St Salvator’s Sunday services. Yet it’s not all gowning around, as the group aims to increase student awareness of the gown’s history, promote gown wearing – out of choice more than necessity – and ensure the availability of gowns for future generations of St Andrews students. With the influx of a new year of gown-sporting Freshers, a constant stream of tourists admiring the traditional icon and a season of gown-appropriate social events in sight, it only seems fitting to say: long live the scarlet gown!

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