The long coat for a walk down King's Parade is a Cambridge student stapleVlada Karpovich / Pexels

The designer and iconic creative director of Dior, John Galliano, once said that “the joy of dressing is an art”. But it is more than just art. Style has the power to construct, express, and alter identity. It shapes the way we see ourselves and empowers us to shape how others see us. We all subconsciously, or consciously, use style as a way of reading people. The bucket hat and pearl necklace combo suggests “I’m probably quite liberal”, while an oversized blazer demonstrates an affinity for dark academia - both as a style choice and a lifestyle. Identity and style are interwoven categories that we engage with every single day. It doesn’t matter if someone’s daily wear consists of a tuxedo, a rotating collection of Met-Gala-worthy ballgowns, or a pair of acid-wash jeans and ratty t-shirts (but please don’t). “Dress for the job you want” extends into dressing for the friends you want, the hobbies you want, and the impression you want to leave.

“Style has the power to construct, express, and alter identity”

Becoming a student is a process of finding identity and community, and where is this more evident than in our style? Coming from all corners of the globe, we all underwent the same gruelling application process that left us thrown into a pool of people with the same ideas about reinventing themselves, breaking the system, and (probably) dabbling in Marxism. Every year, a new group of 18–20-year-olds enter Cambridge ready to do exactly that. As students here, we have all been drawn into the paradoxically traditional and yet cutting-edge mystery of Cambridge - a place to learn and to think; to challenge and to be challenged.

This once-in-a-lifetime fresh start comes with a physical transformation. It breeds a distinct sense of style that alerts everyone in Caffé Nero that a student has just entered the room. Is it the long coat? The tote bag and DMs? The head-to-toe Urban Outfitters-sourced items? It’s not that there is a lack of individuality. On the contrary, what defines Cambridge style more than creativity and individuality? It is colourful and bold, playing with silhouettes and disregarding the heteronormative gender norms that too many of us were burdened with at school. It’s undeniable that most of us will look back at how our sixteen-year-old selves were dressing and feel a deep aching, cringing sense of shame and regret.

“Our style demonstrates that we are empowered”

I came to university with a safely curated collection of jeans and crop tops, as well as a few items that I adored with my whole being but was too scared to actually wear out. It was a uniform of safety and security that allowed me to blend in with the masses. Did I feel cute? Yes. Was I in any way expressing myself or dressing how I wanted to? No. A significant factor in this was the heteronormative, internalised male-gaze, slightly boy-crazy environment that I was caught in throughout school. A litany of Love Island, the Kardashians, pop culture, and general society meant that style to me was about being attractive in an extremely discrete way. Cut to uni, where I consider myself far more attractive and confident, wearing clothes that make me feel good and represent me. Few things make me love this city like seeing the varied and impeccable outfits being strutted down King’s Parade. It inspires me to push the boundaries of my own style.

So what changed? The freedom to think and learn and meet new people breeds confidence and liberation that gets translated into personal style. Yes, of course, there are trends (skinny scarves I’m looking at you) but I will profess to anyone who will listen that the transformation from school student to university student is certainly a change, solidification, and revelation, of personal identity.


Mountain View

Home and away: how our fashion changes in and out of Cambridge

What is it about leaving our childhood homes for the not-particularly-big city that facilitates personal transformation? School stifles individuality and creativity. Although these ideas aren’t always directly pushed by the University itself, they are certainly woven into the Cambridge fabric. Maybe we all have such collective trauma from the skinny jeans years we had no choice but to bring back the baggiest trousers possible. For many of us, University is the most diverse place we’ve ever been exposed to, facilitating a wider range of style inspiration and helping us escape the homogeneity of school. Style is highly personal, yet capable of generating community. It can seem at first glance to be fickle and surface level, but style and identity are vitally interwoven. In the case of Cambridge students? Our style demonstrates that we are empowered. Creative. Unapologetic. You might just be hungover and walking to a supervision, but your style is also making a statement.