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RadGlam: The Vogue of Oxford Libraries

It’s a sunny Monday morning. You’ve woken up early enough to shower, get dressed, and head to the RadCam to tackle the mountain of reading ahead of you. You couldn’t possibly settle for a shadowy spot on the ground floor, so you haul your heaving Longchamps bag up the spiral staircase to find a window seat so that you are visible to all who scan in through the plexiglass gate. Or maybe you’ve returned after lunch only to see that everyone else had the same idea so you make a few awkward circles around the balcony level before settling for a seat with good visibility, and you’re willing to forgo the plug socket to make it happen. 

Either way, your heels click as they tap, tap, tap on the wooden floors, and you can be certain that your presence has broken the concentration of at least a few people who peep their heads up to check who has broken their flow. You finally sit down and open your battered copy of Middlemarch or The Cambridge History of English Romantic Literature. You are the epitome of a light-academia, main-character aesthetic. But is there any point putting this much effort into your appearance? Does dressing the ‘part’  make you any more motivated?  

Since arriving in Oxford I’ve spent more time than is healthy pondering these questions, observing (from a less coveted seat) the hierarchy that exists between those who could easily be moonlighting as models and the average student who simply turns up to work. A friend who recently graduated warned me of the ‘intimidating’ clique of women who will always turn up to lectures at the English faculty immaculately dressed. I think the same can be said for most Oxford libraries. As I write this, I am sitting in the Lower Bodleian on a very busy Tuesday afternoon. There is a range of people surrounding me, and I will endeavour to describe the most distinctive and trendy that are on display here at Oxford. 

There’s always the sea of faded tote bags and leather blazers. Or fishnet stockings if you’re really committed to the look. This fashionable-grunge vibe exudes ‘messy and spontaneous but still sharp and stylish’ in the form of barrette clips and a skinny scarf. This outfit makes dressing down an acceptable norm, and has been a reigning trend throughout 2022 and 2023. 

Perhaps on par with this edgy and spontaneous style is the ‘light academia’ OOTD. This one is commonly observed in the English faculty. Some trademarks are the long beige trenchcoat and a black ribbon in hair. A similar tote bag from a museum, but perhaps not so faded. This person definitely takes handwritten lecture notes with a fountain pen whilst dreaming about their solo trip to Paris over the Easter vac. 

Now, I’m told that college puffers did not become a mandatory wardrobe addition until as recently as five years ago. Nevertheless, there tends to always be that group who congregate in the college library, repping their college puffer and a stash hoodie – even the college joggers for good measure. They probably all hold JCR office positions. These people are very down to earth, and very dedicated to churning out all those essays or problem sheets. You’d want to befriend one of these people if you plan to beg shamelessly for reading notes.

Oxford is a place where eccentricities are accepted; appreciated even. Many of us were ridiculed in school for being academically high-achieving, and the quintessential English ‘country clothing’ aesthetic signals the most serious kind of academic. It’s unlikely that these people are taking time out to read the Cherwell, unless it’s a political scandal concerning the racist claims made by an elderly tutor. They often opt for something that camouflages them – whether it be olive or green gingham, and they prefer a classic briefcase as their hold-all. Still, they’re not afraid of accessorising, and may be spotted in a bow tie and flat cap. Typically seen in Duke Humphrey’s or Upper Bod. Sometimes in the RadCam, although I’ve spotted a handful within my college library alone. 

For some, feeling good in what you wear does wonders for productivity and motivation. Libraries are the microcosm of our academic life, the hub in which students congregate from all corners of Oxford. It’s natural to feel on display, and expressing your trademark style or individuality is a way of showing who you are within an academic setting.  Whether it’s to confront an essay crisis or to catch up on tutorial reading, we have access to some of the most beautiful libraries in the world, and it may not seem fitting to turn up having just rolled out of bed. If we are committing to three (or four!) years of an intense degree, we might as well do it in style. 

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