Something Unique about Aberdeen University
By Andrew HN Gray
Photo Credit: Andrew Gray and University of Aberdeen Collections
As a cost- conscious student in the third decade of the 21st century, who wants to save
the pennies, you’ll be pleased to know that Aberdeen University has a unique, totally distinctive
medieval garment which is an excellent, dirt-cheap way of staying really warm, especially when we’re
all keeping an eye on our heating bills.
I still use mine, decades after leaving Aberdeen.
When I got off the train in Aberdeen aged 18, the very first students I saw, waiting to meet new
arrivals, were all wearing this cosy garment. It was designed to keep you warm and in these days of
expensive energy, what more could you want?
It’s known as a “toga” and, as the illustration shows you, is a red, woollen gown with a velveteen collar.
It’s exclusively an Aberdeen University garment, much like the red gown worn by Saint
Andrews University's students to this day.
As St Andrews' website says, "Scottish universities all have a rich tradition of distinctive academic gowns(but) the University of St Andrews is the only institution that continues this tradition amongst its students to this day."
St Andrews is proud to advertise their university by using its unique, very distinctive gown. Aberdeen,
on the other hand, allowed its toga to fall into disuse in the 1970s, thereby losing its own individual
claim to fame.
If you think of any illustration of St Andrews University, it’s likely to include a
photograph of their students wearing their colourful gown. What better way to advertise how unique
St Andrews is than that? Yet ours is also unique.
In my time at Aberdeen, when the University was very much smaller than now, students were
required by two halls of residence to wear their toga for formal dinners once a month or so. There
was a male version and a female version of the toga and both sexes were required to wear them.
Aberdeen University Fencing Club, of which I was Captain, did so as well because it was easy to put
on and it kept you really cosy after an energetic fight, which would usually leave you sweating. It
stopped us from getting cold and stiff, while we were resting between bouts.
Also, whenever we arrived at any event, we were instantly recognisable, in our all-white fencing kit with a bright red toga. Very stylish.
Apart from the showy nature of the toga, it’s also extremely practical, as it’s made of wool and
doesn’t crush. When you were sitting and reading in your scruffy, freezing cold flat, it made you as
snug as a bug in a rug, as they say.
It meant that we didn't have to keep on feeding the electricity meter, or watching the bills!
Not a bad idea, you would probably say.
Let’s face it, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper to wear a toga than to pay heating bills for half the year!
Andrew Gray is a 1976 graduate of the University of Aberdeen. Andrew is currently dealing with a company which makes academic gowns to see if they will agree to start making togas for Aberdeen students and graduates. Feel free to drop him a line at email@example.com