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Life Divided: sub fusc

Nicola Dwornik and Noush Kavanagh debate the good, the bad, and the ugly of Oxford’s sub fusc

For (Nicola Dwornik):

Clothed in the three-piece ensemble, I am an art project.

The trailing cape—made from black tissue paper—would cause Neil Buchanan (the Art Attack divinity) to burst with pride. Forget the absorption rates of Thirst Pocket Household Towels, sub fusc is fucking useless at sucking up your tears formed by inadequateness and non-existent knowledge. At least, then, it’s representative. The streamer-like strips that stem from your shoulders provide a pre-lash celebration for the failure that you’re about to execute.

Let’s forget about the clothing itself. In reality, it’s all about the procession: the swagger from college to Exam Schools. It’s like the arrival at Hogwarts, without the boats and Hagrid’s esteemed direction, and with the added opportunity of being run over by a bike. You may be shitting yourself about impending doom, but at least you can be papped by tourists wearing a becoming all-black outfit—that really brings out your under eyes—and be shitting yourself all at the same time.

The crowning glory of sub fusc trio has to be the mortarboard, regarded colloquially as the hat-which-must-not-be-worn. But, despite this, it’s highly multifunctional. Aside from its use as a small square umbrella to guard oneself against pathetic fallacy, its underside also functions as a badly designed clutch bag. It can even keep your pencils warm—how glam!

So perhaps sub fusc isn’t the most comfortable thing ever created. But, boy, does it allow you to perfect the ‘ceremonial strip’ as you enter the exam hall. Imagine if we were allowed to wear our own clothes to exams? How would we even begin to feel like the naked husks of men and women, that most of us will inevitably resemble by the end of our papers, without this procedure.

Sub fusc is gloomy. Exams are sombre. Let’s celebrate interconnection.


Against (Anoushka Kavanagh):

You’ll only truly understand the ridiculousness of sub fusc once you’ve had the experience of wearing it to eat chips with pasta, sit twelve hours of exams, and be lathered in shaving foam and glitter, all in the same wholly inappropriate funereal attire.

It may seem cool that we get to dress like Harry Potter every day, but to the average Oxford student, it’s really rather not. The only way in which sub fusc could possibly be opportune is if the gown were able to assume Potter-esque qualities of invisibility, as you sit sweating in your Prelims, furiously trying to unleash your arm from its starched white cage as you watch the minutes tick by.

I’ve never liked sub fusc, and not just because it exists as an ever-present reminder of Prelims trauma, but because I had hoped that I’d finally left the restraints of uniform behind in year eleven. Alas, upon arriving in Oxford, I found that my style choices were yet again to be dictated to me again, this time by centuries-dead men. Any individuality or style was to be replaced by monochrome garbs. Their outfit choices posed a dreary reminder that for the next three years, my life would be just as sombre.

It’s a shame, because minimalist monochrome has the potential to be quite fashionable. However, this season’s Chanel line sadly doesn’t quite seem to work with the ill-fitting blouse and—too long to be cool, too short to be stylish—skirt. Furthermore, those annoying flaps of spare material, dangling awkwardly from your shoulders into your soup at dinner, will stop you from ever resembling Karl Lagerfeld.

A splash of colour brightens up your outfit at trashings, a reminder you’re temporarily free from the monotonous sobriety of library life. But, I think the subsequent trip to the dry cleaners in attempt to remove the congealed shaving foam really sums up sub fusc.

“What exactly is that?” They ask. Yes, what indeed.

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