Dress Codes, Invitations & Etiquette

While in Cambridge, you’ll be invited to lots of exciting formal events, dinners and parties. For some of these, there will be a dress code. Below is some advice on what to wear for each.



For hall you must wear your gown. Lots of people like (and tend) to dress up, especially if it’s a special occasion, but you don’t have to as long as you have a gown. You could happily go in a t-shirt and jeans, although few do. Dress codes at other college halls vary, from King’s where there are no gowns and people go dressed in pretty much anything (including costumes), to Trinity where a suit (or equivalent for girls) is expected.   At John’s just turn up looking reasonable and you’ll be fine.  Flip-flops, shorts and sportswear aren’t considered appropriate.  Other than that as long as you’re rocking the Harry Potter geek chic gown, you’ll be fine.


White Tie

This is the most formal dress code – Magdalene College use it for their May Ball, for example. Basically this is black tail coat, trousers, white shirt, white waistcoat and white bow-tie. Ladies wear full-length dresses and elbow-length gloves. You really won’t come across this unless you do venture to the Peterhouse or Magdalene May Ball though, so don’t worry!


Black Tie

This is the most formal dress code that you will probably encounter in Cambridge. Men wear a dinner jacket with trousers, white shirt and black bow tie. Ladies wear evening, formal dresses but these do not need to be full-length. Black tie basically means a dinner suit or a tuxedo. This is the usual May Ball attire.


Lounge Suits

For men this means a suit with jacket, trousers, tie and shirt. For women a skirt and a smart top or a dress (usually not full length) would be appropriate.


Smart Dress

This is a silly non-official Cambridge term for looking respectable. This usually means at least smart trousers and a shirt for men and a suit or skirt for women.


BlazersLMBC Blazer

The word blazer is actually a Cambridge invention, referring initially to the scarlet jackets of our own Lady Margaret Boat Club. This term is usually used by sports clubs/captains who will have their own special jacket (for example the Blues’ blazer). Those of us who are mere mortals rather than sporting legends can interpret a blazer as a normal suit jacket. These are commonly worn at garden parties in the summer. For girls “blazers” simply implies smart dress (although plenty of female boaties own their own blazers!).



In Cambridge you will be invited to a large number of events. RSVP means ‘Répondez s’il vous plait’, or in English, ‘please respond’. This means you are expected to reply to the invite, usually before a specified date. It doesn’t matter whether or not you accept or decline an invite but it is rude not to reply. Equally it is also considered rude to accept an invitation and then not to turn up. If circumstances change and you cannot meet an engagement after you’ve accepted an invite it is polite to send a note to the person that invited you explaining why you will not be present.