For centuries, the sight of Oxford students in their distinctive academic gowns has been as familiar in the city as its dreaming spires.
But the ancient university has been forced to rewrite its traditional dress code to avoid upsetting transgender students. From next month, men will be allowed to wear skirts or stockings to exams while women can choose suits or white bow ties.
Under the old regulations, male students were required to wear a dark suit with dark socks, black shoes, a white bow tie, and a plain white shirt and collar beneath their black gowns when attending formal occasions such as examinations.
Female students have to wear a dark skirt or trousers, a white blouse, a black ribbon tied in a bow at the neck, black stockings and shoes.
The dress code is strictly enforced by the universitys authorities, which have the power to punish students deemed in breach of the rules.
Punishments range from fines to rustication the suspension of a student for a period of time or expulsion, known as sending down.
However, the university's council, headed by Vice-Chancellor Andrew Hamilton, has dropped any distinction between the sexes by deleting all references to men and women.
While students are still required to dress appropriately for formal occasions and exams, they no longer need to ensure their sub-fusc the clothes worn with full academic dress is distinctive for each sex.
The reforms were introduced following a campaign by the student union, which argued that transgender students, including transvestite or gender confused men and women, could face punishment if they wore inappropriate dress.
Jess Pumphrey, the unions Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer executive officer, said the change would make a small number of students exam experiences significantly less stressful by eliminating the need for trans students to cross-dress to avoid being disciplined during their exam.
She said there was an active transgender community in Oxford, and every member she had spoken to had found sub-fusc, under the old regulations, to be stressful. But one unnamed law student told the university newspaper Cherwell: "This seems a bit unnecessary. It only applies to a tiny percentage of the student population and it seems unlikely that a trans student would really be confronted about what they are wearing."
Former students also voiced their concerns about the change. Ann Widdecombe, who graduated from Lady Margaret Hall in 1972, said: "If men want to prance around in skirts, that is entirely up to them.
"In my day, it would have been unthinkable men were men and women were women, and we dressed accordingly. But I think the university is just saving itself from a silly row, and from that point of view Im on their side. Why go courting a silly row when they dont need one?"
A spokesman for Oxford said: "The regulations have been amended to remove any reference to gender, in response to concerns raised by Oxford University Student Union that regulations did not serve the interests of transgender students."
- Daily Mail