The Boat Race & Oxford, 1958

This weekend the 157th Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race will take place on the Thames, continuing the universities’ storied sporting tradition. Although nowadays the sculls are made of fiberglass and the clothes of Coolmax, in essence the event is largely unchanged since the days of wooden hulls and white flannels. In honor of the occasion, we bring you a look back at a Life magazine photo essay by Mark Kauffman from 1958 on the pleasures of life at Oxford, where “young Britons follow ancient ways of study and enjoyment” in ivy-covered buildings, on bucolic lawns and rambling rivers.

“Every Oxford student is subject to the ancient discipline that polishes and sharpens his mind to the particular grace and urbanity that mark him as an Oxford man,” the magazine noted. He also “finds delight in his leisure hours, the rambles through Oxford’s lush parks and meadows, the bright spectacles and the many happy afternoons spent boating on the lazy river.” The competitive spirit emerges during the Boat Race and Eights Week, when Oxford men and their girlfriends gather on bannered barges to “show off their smart white flannels, blazers and boaters, and root for their colleges’ rowing teams.” As usual we have some outtakes that never saw print.

Jared Paul Stern is the editor of Driven.

Comments on “The Boat Race & Oxford, 1958

    JRS on March 26, 2011 10:13 AM:

    Wow – outstanding images. The last one is great – before or after the party. Either way, they seem to know what’s going on…

    Richard Brown on March 26, 2011 10:32 AM:

    Boring wankers, the lot of them.

    Thad on March 26, 2011 10:49 AM:

    Nice images, but having stood on that river bank watching my College row, I have to correct you. Those are not images of The Boat Race – it takes place in London against Cambridge. The images in the post are from Summer Eights (or, less likely, from Torpids) and is when the Oxford College’s compete for Head of the River honors.

    While this is the 157th Boat Race, Eights Week has been occurring for nearly 200 years (2011 was like the 196th). It is one of the highlights of the year for all Oxford students. I always had a wonderful day with a picnic and Pimms on the banks of the Isis and concluding in of a number of pubs!

    Kenyan on March 26, 2011 10:56 AM:

    I love these pix for trade show backdrops or wallpaper…. as well as the comment from Mister Brown:

    “Boring wankers, the lot of them.”


    JPS on March 26, 2011 12:27 PM:

    See above: “The competitive spirit emerges during the Boat Race and EIGHTS WEEK, when Oxford men and their girlfriends gather on bannered barges to “show off their smart white flannels, blazers and boaters, and root for their colleges’ rowing teams.”

    So what colleges are those fellows up top rooting for?

    G Kitson on March 26, 2011 2:29 PM:

    Posh idiots.

    RSchneider on March 26, 2011 4:43 PM:

    JPS: I’d wager that the fellows in the top photo are from Keble College – by the look of the man’s scarf (which gives away the college allegiance).

    The second to last picture is taken outside the exams school, and the last picture is of Univ’s quad.

    I row for Wolfson College, so seeing these old pictures is wonderful.

    Bryan on March 26, 2011 5:07 PM:

    Great find.

    Reminds me of the Winklevoss twins.

    I wonder how they placed.

    JPS on March 26, 2011 6:16 PM:

    Thanks, and good eye Mr. Schneider. I took a closer look at the original and that chap is not only wearing the scarf but the boating blazer with matching tipping and the old school tie as well…. Thom Browne obviously spent some time poring over pix like these.

    Pat ALLEN on March 26, 2011 7:05 PM:

    Over dry toast and coffee at Pastis, Thom Browne just soiled himself.

    Kaitlyn on March 27, 2011 12:03 AM:

    “It’s another planet man- another universe. Totally unlike the one we know. Filled with big blond guys who eat ivy and row boats.”

    These recall my regatta days, which were not as quite refined, but exhilarating nonetheless.

    JohnP on March 27, 2011 6:39 AM:

    Wankers, as above !

    chris brady on March 27, 2011 10:51 AM:

    Very beautiful but I also wished that Gillray or Rowlandson were still around so they could draw a pic of it.

    A Scargill on March 27, 2011 12:58 PM:

    Over-priviliged twits.

    JPS on March 27, 2011 1:38 PM:

    About this misguided idea of “posh idiots” and “over-privileged twits” – these are scenes from real life, not ‘Brideshead Revisited’. The article was in fact at pains to point out that the notion of all Oxford men being toffs granted admission as a birthright was outmoded even then: “Today only the brightest young minds in the country, regardless of their social status, pass the stiff entrance exams. Over 70% get financial aid.”

    Surely we’re all aware that being nattily dressed does not automatically mean you’re a moneyed moron, today or in 1958. The white ties, the magazine noted, are part of the required “subfusc” clothing worn with cap and gown for examinations as well as formal occasions such as the Commemoration Ball, seen in the last photo, given by most of the colleges every three years.

    Matt on March 27, 2011 8:31 PM:

    Does anyone know which college’s dining hall that is in the 2nd to last photo?

    HB on March 28, 2011 10:11 AM:

    I love the blonde in the ninth photo, great pics!

    elliot on March 28, 2011 10:34 AM:

    what kind of hat is the man in the first picture wearing, the one with the stripes?
    cool images

    Ye Ole General on March 28, 2011 10:44 AM:

    Elliot, the hat is called a Boater. I wish Pimms was availible in Alabama.

    Billy on March 28, 2011 10:57 AM:

    Nice pics I suppose but with the exception of the keen observation of HB I whole heartedly concur with the “wankers” and “twits” sentiment. Might I add, fops and coxcombs.

    The Trad on March 28, 2011 1:01 PM:

    I’m fascinated by any culture and it’s customs that are novel. In much the same way a stranger’s Kodachrome slides from the ’50s somewhere in Maine or Wisconsin fascinate me. I don’t assume the people in the images are wankers or worse: “Look at that guy with the dead deer on his fender. I bet he’s been at some lynchings.”

    simonc on March 28, 2011 2:56 PM:

    …Not to mention the fact that rowing is quite possibly the toughest most ballbreaking sport, along with say rugby which is yes another public school sport where many of those boy will be from – but not all. Trust me readers when I say none of the oink-like chavs who made the negative comments above have ever had the balls to do either of these truly demanding manly sports. Let alone join the army, fight wars and then make a fortune in the city to then turn around and do the same to their children. No your lives consisit of very little challenge very little progress. The truth is avid readers, the truth of this toughest of sports is rather hard for the Jealous Lazy Underclass SCUM to bear! Let alone the style and manners it generates, now GTFO failure.

    Raulston on March 28, 2011 3:18 PM:

    Exceptional photos. Thank you for sharing.

    I must concur with the gent above rowing is a supremly taxing sport but very rewarding the same.

    JohnP on March 28, 2011 3:30 PM:

    Sorry JPS,Oxford is a bastion of the English ruling classes, approx 50% of students are from private fee paying schools, these schools only account for approx 7% of the nations students.
    They are indeed images from real life, but not a life the majority of the UK would recognise.A large number are indeed “over-privileged twits” though I prefer wankers.
    I do agree though that nattily dressed doesn’t auomatically equate to being monied but hell it helps. .

    andrea on March 28, 2011 4:33 PM:

    There is nothing so pallid as pallid English flesh.

    JSQ on March 30, 2011 1:30 PM:

    Are you the same people who fawn over “Ivy Style”?
    Do you think that’s any more of a representation of the American diaspora than Oxford and Cambridge are for Britain?

    Unashamedly Crap on March 30, 2011 3:59 PM:

    OK, they won this year, but Oxford is only the third or fourth best University in the UK. Cambridge, obviously, is the best and I believe one or two of your US colleges are fairly decent.

    Pip Pip.

    LMK on March 30, 2011 5:38 PM:

    The guy in the striped jacket in the first photo looks like he wandered off from the carnival.

    JRF on March 31, 2011 12:59 PM:

    Ye Ole General – I’m sure you can get Pimms in Alabama. We can get it at liquor stores in Tennessee, and I used to get it easily in Mississippi. In fact, (and this isn’t aimed at you) as a southerner whose father is British, it kind of annoys me when southerners think a Pimm’s Cup is a southern drink, like a mint julep. It is certainly served in New Orleans, but southern it is not.

    To the haters – the wankers and twits comments indicate jealousy more than any of the other posts. These old guys just look cool, privileged or not, and that’s all this is about. I can’t believe people come on a blog that is essentially about clothing, for christ’s sake, and then complain that the wearers are too rich. You might have noticed that ACL isn’t a blog about sartorial trends of the working class. But neither is it a place that romanticizes or fetishizes the elite. If anything, it sees dress as a common denominator amongst people of all stripes, and pays tribute to that.

    Ye Ole General on March 31, 2011 3:45 PM:

    JRF- No Pimms in this part of Alabama, but I’m only 17 miles from Tennessee, and about 30 miles from Mississippi, so I’ll find some soon. I often had Pimms in New Orleans (where I lived for 30 years). You are right, it’s NOT a southern thing.

    And your second paragraph……..well said.

    JRF on March 31, 2011 9:08 PM:

    Ye Ole General – You must be in fairly rural Alabama, then? Admittedly, the only places I’ve gotten it are in the Nashville area, and in Oxford, MS, so maybe you have to be closer in. Well, anyway, wishing happy Pimms hunting to a fellow anglophile southerner!

    JPS on March 31, 2011 10:40 PM:

    JRF – very well said. Gentlemen, I’m going to insist that Pimm’s send this thing down your way immediately: Failing that we should just hijack it; hopefully it floats.

    JRF on April 1, 2011 1:13 PM:

    JPS – That is great! Thank you. Yes, I think YEG and myself wouldn’t mind seeing that bus anywhere down south.

    IvyRower on April 1, 2011 10:54 PM:

    Rowing shells are now made of carbon fiber, not fiberglass. I think this has been said before, but these are not photos from the Boat Race, they are mashed up photos from Summer Eights and other races.

    I’m all for publicizing rowing, but please don’t speak on the subject as if you are an expert. It’s insulting to us rowers but this is not quite as nauseating as this blog post:

    JRF on April 3, 2011 1:55 PM:

    can’t help but pick on you, Ivy Rower. This passage from your post over at unabashedlyprep was hilarious in its pretension, and its syntax made me wonder how the ninth grade is going for you. Are you going to rowing camp this summer?

    “the tradition of rowing in the Ivies is not something that should be hijacked by the blogs of the masses. As someone who is trying to understand the Ivy lifestyle, you should know that the old boys’ club of Ivy League rowing is one of the bastions of this world you and your readers are trying to understand. “

    JPS on April 3, 2011 2:30 PM:

    Ivy – I am by no means an expert on rowing, nor do I claim to be in the above. This is a blog about style, son. I don’t go over to rowing sites and harass them about the inseam on their shorts. But you’re welcome to stick around and grab a Pimm’s – you’ll get the hang of it eventually.

    John Peel on April 3, 2011 7:38 PM:

    Can’t even enjoy some pictures without the British class system being debated…

    It really gets on my nerves when people associate Oxford and Cambridge with wealthy toffs from public schools, totally different things. Only the smartest people get accepted, granted a lot come from Public schools but out come some of the smartest Inventors/politicians/artists/writers/businessmen the world has ever seen. (and some great fashions that is envied the world over still today)

    To suggest only toff’s go there is quite frankly, showing your own lack of intelligence.0

    Disciple of Arthur Conan Doyle on April 4, 2011 9:49 PM:

    Looks like the film companies that made the Inspector Morse and Inspector Lewis episodes did an excellent job getting Oxford — the town and the University — right! I loved growing up reading LIFE every Thursday afternoon and evening throughout the 1960s, beginning as soon as I brought in the mail when I arrived home from school. These pix help me remember why. Thanks!

    JPS on April 10, 2011 9:56 AM:

    Doyle Disciple: the pix put me in mind of Lewis as well. The full series of photos really gets it across, a lot of them really need to be viewed quite large for the full effect. There are about 75 in the unedited series of which about only about 15 appeared in the magazine. Along with some of Kauffman’s other stuff in a similar vein there’s probably enough for a very cool ‘Take Ivy’-style book. In fact that’s a damned good idea. If anyone’s interested let me know.

    Susanne on April 13, 2011 1:23 PM:

    Thanks for the views, really nice!

Comments are closed.