What is the link of those communities with towns and gowns? I read 'town' being the non-academic population but I don't get the logic of that also gown being the university community such as Oxford, Cambridge, Durham. But also don't get the logic this latter one maybe because proms I don't know.

The real question is how did those communities get those nicknames?

  • 1
    Historically academics wore a garment known in English as a gown. It rhymes with town so making it a snappy phrase.
    – mdewey
    Aug 22, 2022 at 14:02

1 Answer 1


During graduation ceremonies at such universities (including those in the USA), students, faculty, and other dignitaries wear academic gowns, such as you see below.

Oxford graduation

Wikipedia offers this explanation:

The academic dress found in most universities in the Commonwealth of Nations and the United States is derived from that of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, which was a development of academic and clerical dress common throughout the medieval universities of Europe. This overgarment had the practical purpose of keeping a scholar warm while they were sitting, immobile, studying.

The gown refers to the students and professors who wear the gowns. Traditionally, they belong to the wealthy, educated class. The town refers to the working-class people who live in the town where the university is located. They might be employed as housekeepers, cooks, gardeners, etc. at the university itself, or they might be farmers, factory workers, shop assistants, and so on.

The point of the phrase town and gown is to draw attention to a distinction between these classes. Today, the perception that they are different can exist even where the college or university attracts working-class students. My personal experience might be unusual, but I have never heard the phrase used in a positive way. I have usually heard it in contexts where the university president says things like this:

We have a serious town-and-gown problem. The students treat the locals like dirt. The mayor is so upset he won't let us hold our annual parade. I need you professors to talk some sense into these kids.

  • I understand the use of gown by your explanation, but not town. Is it just rhym thing?? Aug 22, 2022 at 15:22
  • @Lynerapintcho at one time in the past an inhabitant of a university city such as Cambridge, UK, was a master, a student, or a servant: part of the service industry supplied by the town which was required for the non-academic running of the uni. That was the function of the town. It's very different now, but it lead to the catch phrase: town and gown, to emphasise the difference between those worlds. Aug 22, 2022 at 15:37
  • I have added some explanation. Aug 22, 2022 at 15:54
  • It is common in the U.S. for students to refer to the non-student population of university towns as Townies.
    – EllieK
    Aug 22, 2022 at 16:00

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