Mainsbury’s is, however, not only a social hub for us students. It is a catwalk.Tomos Davies and Eva Weinstein with permission for Varsity

Ask a tourist where the heart of Cambridge is and they’ll probably mention King’s Parade or the mathematical bridge. A local might suggest Hot Numbers or the Eagle. Ask a student, however, and they will reveal that Sidney Street hosts the real core of the city.

Affectionately dubbed “Mainsbury’s” (because Cambridge students can never resist a portmanteau), the supermarket has become an unlikely social hub. Whether you’re looking for energy mid-essay-crisis in the form of an eight-pack of Diet Coke and 80p cookies, you’re a rower looking for a post-workout snack, or perhaps you’re just hurriedly grabbing a bottle of wine before formal dinner; every student seems to find themselves in the aisles at least once a day.

A fundamental part of the Cambridge experience that tends to go unnoticed, Mainsbury’s trips provide a grounding constant in the ever-changing fast-paced student lifestyle. For many of us, Mainsbury’s offers a comforting parallel between Cambridge and our hometowns. The universal relief of seeing red peppers and crumpets freshly stocked after having braved flocks of King’s Parade tourists is unmatched.

Mainsbury’s is, however, not only a social hub for us students. It is a catwalk – a catwalk where pyjamas are completely acceptable (expected, perhaps) and we proudly parade them alongside a selection of college gowns and floor-length dresses.

The formal-goer

Wearing a gown at virtually any other store around the country might earn you weird stares, but in Mainsbury’s it is part of the uniform. Rather than attention-grabbing, the gown is an invisibility cloak; no one bats an eyelid at the student in a satin dress and Hogwarts-esque cloak, customarily found in the wine aisle. Traipsing to Mainsbury’s in formal wear is somewhat of a rite of passage. Nothing screams Cambridge quite like a student attired in suit and gown, Mainsbury’s house red in one hand, packet of paracetamol in the other.

The rower

Much like the formalwear trope, rowing gear is a costume donned in Cambidge’s Mainsburys at a much higher concentration than anywhere else in the country. A Blues quarter-zip is good, but the real “Mainsbury’s bingo” find is the rowing one-piece. The college crest, the patriotic colourings, and the half-waterproof/half-scuba diving type material. The look is complete – and the look is utterly “Cambridge”.

The stash fanatic

The rower’s one-piece is the ultimate Cambridge fitTomos Davies with permission for Varsity

Love it or hate it, the college puffer is ubiquitous in Cambridge, and Mainsbury’s is no exception. In Michaelmas, students in black puffer jackets swarm around the supermarket, often paired with a Freshers’ Fair tote bag – to remind shoppers that they are Cambridge students and environmentalists, of course. The quintessential puffer often provides only the top layer of several items of stash. And for those on laundry day perhaps, a more discrete college quarter-zip may be spotted amongst the aisles, the crest tactfully covered by a leather jacket or carefully-placed scarf. Stash etiquette is heavily debated, but with ample time at checkout to decode college crests and note embroidered initials, Mainsbury’s is undoubtedly the ultimate place to receive a Crushbridge.

Comfies and Crocs

We work hard enough. Sometimes the food shop has to be done in pyjamas.Tomos Davies with permission for Varsity

Finally, and in our opinion both boldest and best, we have those of us confident enough (or desperate enough for a loaf of bread) to venture to Mainsbury’s in pyjamas. Extra points for the dressing gown, and, most importantly, the Crocs. The question is posed: do you live on Green Street, in which case this is a quick trip around the corner, or have you come from West Road, meaning this is something of an adventure in perhaps unsuitable clothing. We respect you, though. You are a testament to how at home we feel in our beloved Mainsbury’s.


Mountain View

The rowing one-piece: a history & style guide

These are the tropes that underpin Cambridge life. Mainsbury’s is not just a supermarket, it is part of the student experience. It creates the space for care-free fashion. It is, perhaps, the complete juxtaposition of Sidgwick Site; Sidge demands carefully curated and accessorized outfits, whereas Mainsbury’s simply demands you dress as you please, and you come as you are. Each aisle will feature a new fashion icon, in stash, formal wear, rowing gear, or pyjamas. The multiple uniforms of the Cambridge student are everywhere to be seen.