The ancient Scottish universities all have a rich tradition of distinctive academic gowns for both undergraduate and postgraduate students. However, the University of St Andrews is the only institution that continues this tradition amongst its students to this day.
The red gown was introduced post-Reformation as compulsory 'school uniform' to students as young as 13 as a way of preventing them from illicit drinking in public houses. While the red undergraduate gown is iconic within the town, there is no obligation to own a gown. However, the red gown is a great opportunity for students to immerse themselves in the historical culture of the University.
The red gown is probably the most well-known of the University’s academic gowns and is worn by undergraduate students of all Schools with the exception of St Mary’s, who have their own variation.
The gown is knee-length with cape sleeves. The main body is made from 100% wool while the collar is made from velveteen.
The red gown is commonly worn for the weekly chapel service and pier walk, where students proceed from St Salvators down to the pier to commemorate the rescue of crew members of the ship Janet of Macduff by a former student, John Honey, along with other special occasions.
Students wear the red gown differently according to which year they are in:
- First-year students (bejants) wear the gown fully up on their shoulders.
- Second-year students (semi-bejants) wear the gown slightly back off their shoulders.
- Third-year students (tertians) wear the gown either fully off the right shoulder if studying science or the left shoulder if studying arts (“Arts have hearts, but scientists are always right”!).
- Fourth-year students (magistrands) wear the gown off both shoulders, across the elbows.
This tradition represents each student growing wiser with each passing year and shrugging off the support of the University until they finally leave as a graduate, ready for the world.
St Mary’s gown
Students of St Mary’s College are members of the Faculty of Divinity and, rather than the red gown, have the option to wear a knee-length black gown with short, open sleeves. The gown also has a violet cross of St Andrew on the left-facing sleeve.
The University also offers a postgraduate gown of black cloth faced with burgundy. The postgraduate gown was introduced to provide better integration for students coming from Schools that didn’t offer their own gowns and to extend the academic dress beyond undergraduate level.
Students have the option of wearing their original undergraduate gown (including those of other universities), or they may choose the postgraduate gown.
Should you wish to join in the gown tradition, we offer a pre-ordering service to ensure that your gown, in the correct size, is available for collection in St Andrews. Pre-orders can be made online through our University Shop (other sources are available).