Well, personally, I think the question should really be turned around: can you ever not sex up a subfusc? My goodness, those outfits are easily the kinkiest things to have happened to Oxford since the Earl of Rochester went to Wadham and developed a taste for debauchery, as anyone does after crossing Wadham’s filthy threshold.
But let’s leave the filthy earl and original libertine aside for the moment and concentrate on the black and the white: the black cape, the strict white shirt, those little bow ties or pieces of black string…. Sorry, I think I just turned myself on.
Now, some of you are probably thinking that I am mad, old, all of the above and that is the only explanation for me finding anything erotic in the subfusc. The first half of that sentence is arguably very true indeed but the second does not necessarily depend on my insanity or decrepitude. In fact, it is a source of great regret to me that I did not appreciate the subfusc when I had the excuse to wear it. Back then I saw it, at best, as an inconvenience that made tourists laugh and, at worst, as a sign that I was to take an exam that day. I most certainly did not see the subfusc as sexy, but that might have had to do with the fact that I last wore mine in 1999 and therefore had 90s hair. No one looked sexy with 90s hair. Ask Kurt Cobain. Or Andie MacDowell.
Anyway, I am here to stop you young people from making the same mistake I did in not appreciating your fusc de sub. Part of the problem is, I think, that because there are certain immutable features, the optionals get neglected. What I’m saying is, don’t wear a crummy, baggy white top, faded trousers, disgusting black shoes. If the basics are good, the rest will work.
But ultimately, it is a question of attitude. Boys, think ‘Byronic’ – hell, Rochesterian. This doesn’t mean you should go around proclaiming ‘Much wine had passed, with grave discourse / Of who fucks who, and who does worse’, unless you are an English student in which case you absolutely should quote that because it is, like, work. It means you should wear your subfusc with drama and flair, flicking that little cape around as you turn corners or, even better, letting it fly behind you as you cycle down the high street. For the ladies, I say ‘Maggie Gyllenhaal in the film Secretary’ and I say no more. Although perhaps don’t crawl into the exam hall with your pens in your mouth. I don’t think that will work as well on the examiners as it did on James Spader. Although you never know. Like I said, and Rochester would doubtless concur, Oxford is a kinky place.
Hadley Freeman is a fashion columnist for the Guardian and former Editor of Cherwell