University of Edinburgh withdraws graduation fashion advice after backlash

The University of Edinburgh has withdrawn an online article intended to give fashion advice to graduating students, after a backlash on charges of classism and cissexism.

The post, released as a newsletter to the graduating class, detailed tips on what to wear to the formal ceremonies, under the mantle “Add a Degree of Fashion to Your Graduation Day.” Written in a whimsical tone, it encouraged male and female students to spend lavishly on graduation attire and made recommendations of luxury brands to wear.

In one passage directed at female students, the article suggested “a little black dress from a brand like Carven or Iro would be spot on,” and added recommendations for Gianvoti Rossi heels and “a clutch with personality.”

“Girls, this is your time to invest in some sophisticated glamour,” the post read. “Think, French chic meets New York business and you’ll get it right. Like the boys, put your money into a garment or look at one that has longevity that you can dress up and down to suit any social/business occasion.”

“Remember, image is everything!” the post concluded.

The article quickly attracted the ire of students. In a post on the feminist Facebook group “Cuntry Living” Rebecca Speedie, a third-year, posted a link to the article saying: “as someone who’s going to be in like £20k debt by the time I leave uni…this is an absolute joke.”

Speedie sent an email to the University raising the issue, calling the fashion suggestions “disgusting and classist.”

“I’m writing to express my disappointment with this article on graduation fashion, which is offensively condescending and off-base,” Speedie wrote, pointing out that the brands recommended would amount to a £500 pair of shoes and £600 clutch bag.

“Suggesting to graduates who have just spent four years working extremely hard to gain their degree that ‘image is everything’ (and by extension, if one can’t afford upwards of £1000 for a graduation outfit then they amount to ‘nothing’) is a vile sentiment to come from a University webpage,” the email, which she reposted in the Facebook page, continued.

Speedie’s email was accompanied by several others directed at the administration.

Third-year Annabel Britton shared with The Student an email she had written calling the post “inappropriate” and “ridiculous.”

“This classism, cissexism and erasure of non-binary identities serves to make sure that anyone who isn’t cis, straight, and laughing all the way to the bank feels unwelcome at their own graduation ceremony,” she wrote.

A separate flurry of tweets emerged Thursday evening criticising the post as “grim.”

“That degree you’re going to get? Less important than showing some leg,” one Twitter user wrote.

“4 years hard work, and a degree later, apparently the only thing that matters is ‘image,'” said another.

Responding to the pressure, the University sent a tweet Thursday night apologising for the newsletter and calling it inappropriate. The post was subsequently removed from the site.

Speaking to The Student, Britton said she was satisfied with the way the University had responded, but frustrated that the post was published in the first place.

“[The situation is not] ‘no harm, no foul,’ because it was offensive, and it was up, and it still would be if we hadn’t kicked it off, and I think in particular for any non-binary or trans people it would have been very upsetting,” she said.

Britton said she took issue with the alleged classism present in the post as well, adding: “Does my degree, which cost four years and thousands of pounds, pale in significance compared to a nice dress and lipstick? It’s just such a ridiculous message for a university to be pedalling.”

Other fourth-year students expressed their strong feelings against the post.

“It’s assuming the main priority for a girl on her graduation day is to have her lipstick,” fourth-year student Naomi Hoggett told The Student. “It’s ridiculous.”

“It’s ironic that after having spent four years training how to be an intellectual, they now say you should only be an image,” fourth-year Eloise Hendy agreed.

Responding to the events, Edinburgh University Students Association (EUSA) Vice President Services Urte Macikene heavily criticised the original post and praised the University’s decision to take it down.

“This was a ridiculous article and I’m glad it’s been taken down,”she told The Student. “What you wear on graduation or at any other point in university makes absolutely no difference to the fact you worked incredibly hard to get to the point of graduation and should be celebrating.”

She added: “Talking about designer clothes and gendered stereotypes for graduation day reinforces the types of social divisions universities should be working to eliminate.”

In response to queries from The Student on the article’s removal, a spokesperson for the University said that it had not been properly scrutinised before being posted.

“It is not our normal practice to promote or advertise any external companies or services,” the spokesperson said. “The page had not gone through the correct approval process and has since been taken down.”

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