Formal Challenge at Oxford

By Dalia is Gala


One of the nicest traditions and typical things about Oxford is going to a formal hall! But what is a formal hall, or a “formal”? It almost sounds like an exam or some kind of anassessment, but in fact it is a formal dinner which happens in the dining hall of the colleges! During formal hall, students in majority of the colleges are required to wear their formal gown, also called the “subfusc”.

A three-course meal is served during the formal hall, sometimes accompanied by wine. In my college, Merton, we have formals every day from Sunday until Thursday in Trinity term, and we do not have wine served with it, but we can bring our own wine. Other colleges can have only one or two formals a week. Some colleges, including mine, also have “guest nights” or “president’s black tie” dinners, during which wine is included, and guests from other colleges or outside of the college might be invited to dine in the college.

Because of the fact that there are many colleges and private halls at Oxford, some students partake in a “challenge” where during their degree they attempt to dine at every Oxford college and hall! It can be challenging due to the fact that, as I mentioned, formal halls are more rare at some colleges than others. Moreover, as a member of Merton college, I can only book a formal at Merton, so I need to be invited as a guest by a friend to dine in another college. All of that makes it hard to complete the “formal challenge”, but some manage nonetheless! It also prompts the creation of online groups like “Oxford Formal Dinners Marketplace” where students swap tickets to formals or even exchange them for money, sweets and other privileges.