Monday, 22 June 2009
The Etiquette of Cambridge Stash
The most obvious place to start here is to define 'Stash' for those non-Vulgarian Cambridge students - stash means branded clothing, such as hoodies stating 'University of Cambridge', 'Leeds Met' etc.
The item in the above image is the best-selling stash, but it is, despite its simplicity, one of the most culturally and symbolically laden items one could ever wear, if one is a Cammy student.
First up there is the awkward dichotomy between the stereotypes of Cambridge and the stereotypes of hoodies. The stereotypes of Cam students run far and wide, but a general consensus rests around excessive-privelege, arrogance, confidence and, essentially, wealth. Quite how justified these stereotypes are is beside the point in this case. Then you have the stereotype of the hoody - it is now a term in the political lexicon. 'Hug a hoody' has the same aversive connotations of shaking hands with a leper or being stuck in a lift with somebody in an overcoat. The hoody is the symbol of vandalism, of disruption, of intimidation, of gangs of youths, of evil juvenile delinquency ... and a loads of other old bollocks. The 'Cambridge Hoody' is then, in itself, quite an absurd idea. Sure it would be better to have University branded elbow pads, or Tailcoat-stash... But no, Cambridge Hoody it is and it is due to this awkward bifurcation into the contradictory connotational worlds of privelege and delinquency, that the social mores and messages of wearing it are so bizarre.
We go first to Cambridge itself, that sexy little city in the otherwise non-descript area of England known as the East. In Cambridge, the majority of people you will see in the city centre are students at the University of Cambridge. Nonetheless, a walk down Kings Parade will inevitably lead to passing by a multitude of 'University of cambridge' hoodies, there are a few explanations for this. 1) If the wearer is Chinese, there is a greater-than-average chance it is a tourist, 2) It is a practical item, 3) inferior college?
Ooh contraversial! I propose that those students who are wholeheartedly ideologically integrated into their college are more inclined to wear their college stash. Thus, if one wears a 'University of Cambridge' hoody in the city itself, chances are you are at a 'lesser' college. The hoody then comes to represent an assertion of one's belonging in the institution.
The message that is given out by wearing the Cambridge hoody whilst in Cambridge is one of a need to assert one's group membership, and an awareness of this risk.
This is very different when back on provincial turf. I refer specifically to Doncaster, previously home of mining, horse racing, railways, now home of an English Democrat mayor, a BNP MEP and 4 poundshops. The Cambridge hoody in Doncaster is a wholly different cultural symbol. I daresay I am more dubious about wearing my Cambridge hoody in Doncaster, than I am about wearing my Labour Club hoody in Cambridge! One has a right to be proud about making it to Cambridge surely? The town centre populus is dotted with 'University of York St John' hoodies and 'Univeristy of Hull' hoodies yet nobody bats an eyelid. But what of the Cam hoody?
By wearing the Cambridge hoody in Doncaster, it is effectively dividing the wearer from the group - to compare with Social Anthropology, it is like Malinowski wearing his Victorian garb whilst in amongst the Papuans. The Cambridge Hoody thus symbolises difference in the same way that does a sari, a turban, a hijab or ... a kimono.
Another difference when back in Doncaster is people's interpretation of the wearers intention. People may consider why would an individual wear such an item. My reckoning would be that there may be presupposition that it is a manifestation of vulgar pride, big-headedness. This is something very much against the folk culture of Doncastrians! Any writing on the chest, male or female, effectively invites people to observe you and judge you, as they would a book. And what messages you see?! When I see people wearing anything with the lame French Connection puns - FCUK fashion, FCUK my life, FCUK my wife etc - I instantly categorise them as a twat/idiot. When men wear the intentionally offensive shirts with messages like - On Your Knees, Suck it and see - I instantly think they are lower class. The wearing of University of Cambridge on one's chest in a poor area may be tantamount to bragging.
I find this interesting because we now come to the realisation that the 'University of Cambridge' hoody has adverse social and cultural effects for the actual Cambridge students who wear it, whether at Uni or at home. Thus, the people best adapted to wearing the University of Cambridge hoodies are those not in any way linked to the university. In this way, they are not representative of their own identity, but the tourist wearing of the Cam Uni hoody is testimony to the powerful identity of the University itself. People effectively become billboards.
Yet still I own one. Yet still it remains tentatively on my coat peg on my bedroom door in Doncaster. Dare I do it? Dare I?