The St Andrews dress code: on standing out

Sarah John encourages us to step outside of the box.


The Other Guys sang it first back in 2012: “Our St Andrews girls are unforgettable, Hunter boots and Barbours on top.” Well, the Other Guys were wrong, because Hunter boots and Barbours are definitely forgettable. In fact, they are practically invisible — as are many other things typical of the status quo here in the bubble (red trousers and Ray Bans included).

In a town like this, where so many people stick to the status quo and opt to fit in and go unnoticed, it is quite easy to wear something that sets you apart from the crowd and draws attention to your style. The only obstacle is summoning the confidence to execute it.

Balls, fashion shows, and other up-per-tier events are arguably the most anticipated nights of the year for everyone to showcase their personal (or impersonal) style. St Andrews prides itself on being set apart from other universities with its near constant influx of black-tie and formal events intricately woven into the fabric of St Andrews culture. Often, the deciding factor that either makes or breaks these events is what people are wearing.

In our neck of the woods, what you wear to an event matters because everyone is taking pictures of you. You cannot afford to look ugly, and you cannot afford to look out of place, overdressed, or underdressed, lest you want to be treated as the town pariah for the next month. At least, this is the mentality that many people have when they are deciding what to wear to the Next Big Thing.

Often, the venue of events provides some foggy regulations on what to wear. Balls located at the Old Course Hotel or the Hotel du Vin tend to advertise with a bit more grandeur than Lower College Lawn events (although the latter can boast equally as much panache under the right organisational skills). While balls tend to blur together and the dress code is generally stable, Kinkell Byre events require a little more thought due to the venue’s versatile nature.

The chosen venue of both the Mermaids’ Christmas Ball and Welly Ball, as well as lower-tier events like Szentek and House of Horror, the dress code for Kinkell,is fluid. Christmas Ball saw a great deal of floor-length dresses as well as short ones, while Szentek called for more laid-back attire.

Then there was the disastrous Masquerave, taking place at Balgrove Larder and then at Club 601. Originally intended as a traditional, black-tie ball in true St Andrews style, it was rebranded into a more casual ordeal that was ultimately an embarrassing hit-and-miss. Not a ball gown and tuxedo affair, normal going-out clothes were worn to this event with the addition of masks.

When it comes to ladies’ outfits, the major divide between being under and overdressed lies in the length of the dress. In the weeks before a ball or major black-tie event, hushed, excited voices can be heard throughout the library: “Are you going to the ball?” followed immediately by, “Is your dress long or short?” Such a simple question requires much thought, planning, and sleuthing. You have to think about whether a long dress or short dress flatters you more, you have to project ratios of long dresses to short ones, and you have to wonder if a mid-length dress is an acceptable compromise between long and short, or if it will still be too formal for an event which has every possibility of being dominated by short dresses. Then, you have to spend a good amount of time frantically messaging your friends to ask what type of dress they are wearing.

After all these numbers and logistics have been calculated, you have to sift through pages and pages of online catalogues. Soon, what was supposed to be a simple decision turns into a mind-boggler of mathematical proportions.The overarching paradox is that people want to fit in but stand out at the same time. People want gazes to gravitate towards them, but only for the right reasons.

It is difficult because there is such a fine line between being excessive and wearing some-thing that peers will consider “too much” and wearing something that is just original enough to stand out while still adhering to the unofficial dress code guidelines.

It has never really been a question of whether people follow the dress code set by the event holders; it is a question of whose dress code they follow. In St Andrews, there is a tendency to act like sheep. The masses will follow the one or two trendsetters who set their own dress code, no matter what the event is. Desperate to fit in and look good in all those Ampersand photos, sacrificing personal style in favour of someone else’s taste is not uncommon.

Insecurities about fitting in and wearing the right thing are rampant in a town as focused on appearance and glamour as this one. Everyone thinks everyone cares who is wearing what, who is being photographed, where the pictures will be posted, and who is going to see the photos.This conviction is prevalent especially at events like Opening Ball, where people were highly aware that Tatler was sending photographers to capture the best-dressed of them all. However, Tatler is not going to take photos of people whose outfits are uniform and neglect to stand out.

They want something original, trendy, and fresh while still retaining classic, traditional ball elements without overdoing it. Nevertheless, the fear of being judged remains entrenched in many guests, so instead, they opt to underplay it and wear something that lacks any originality at all. How many more of the same ASOS dress can we stomach by the time May Ball rolls around?

The irony of the situation is that high fashion plays such a major role in the lifestyle of the town, yet people are afraid of standing out. Meanwhile, the people who do stand out do not for long because, before long, everyone else is wearing what they were brave enough to wear in the first place. The question must be asked: why do we care what anyone else thinks? Wear that gorgeous long dress that you found at Topshop even though all your friends said they would be wearing short ones. Wear a tiara to Opening Ball for no reason other than because it looks so great on you. If you are going to an event, you have to really go to the event. It will not suffice to simply make an appearance, take a few bland photos, and leave with a vague sense of dissatisfaction that you did not dazzle people as much as you could have. You bought that ticket, now enjoy it and for-get who is watching or judging.

The truth is, most of the people judging you are riddled with insecurities themselves. Ask yourself if you really care what the sour-faced girl wearing the same little black dress as everyone else thinks about you for having the confidence and audacity to show off your own style. You can be the person whose photos you look at on Facebook and think “If only I could pull that off.”

You can pull it off. The only thing stopping you is fear.


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