Town versus Gown
When in Cambridge, you might notice that some people use the expression ‘town’ or ‘gown’ when addressing someone of something. This division of town versus gown is very popular within university cities. These expressions mainly represent the community’s distinction between the locals and the academics.
Evidentially ‘town’ is used when referring to the non-academic population, addressing the local community and their customs. In the other hand, ‘gown’ refers exclusively to the academics, the whole university community. Even though the expression ‘town versus gown’ has a historic connotation past, this metaphor continues to be used nowadays.
The origin of this metaphor
The name gown is associated with the fact that, from the middle ages, university students held a minor clerical status. Therefore it was crucial that they had vestments that could make such relevant position evident. So, students were asked to wear long black gowns along with hood and cap. This vestments popularity remains still until today, becoming a graduation tradition of many universities in celebration of academic life.
Moreover, the locals started by addressing the students as people who did not contribute to the manual tasks required around the city. So the town people started by calling them the ‘gown’. Once their gowns seemed too impractical for physical manual work. Thus, mainly from the clothing, the citizens of the same city were immediately set apart. Hence the main distinction between town and gown.
Cambridge is a great example of a city that has slipped into ‘town and gown’. Has we can observe by its medieval roots and growth of Cambridge University around the town centre, which inevitably made the evident distinction between locals and academics.
The settlement of the university brought lots of students to town. Which was meant to be great for trading and economy for the city. Instead it created rough fights and a barrier within Cambridge’s community. It was believed that the locals were overcharging the students for food and rent.
Therefore the division between the ones who live here to those who studied here, because so clear that it is still evident nowadays. To be honest, nowadays this division is just a way of addressing people and mention their importance within our city. Hence it is proved that everyone is equally important to preserve the economy and importance of this city. In fact, when punting along the River Cam, there’s no way to find who belongs to which group, because both town and gown love to spend time punting in Cambridge.