explore College Colours

16 November 2021

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It can sometimes be impossible to pinpoint the origin of Emma traditions, but in the case of the College’s sporting colours, we know the precise date on which they were adopted.

A tableau of pink and blue clothes: two caps, a tie, a jacket and a patch













The historic decision was taken at a meeting of the Emmanuel Boat Club held on 7 February 1851, and although the selection of dark blue and rose seems to have been based on nothing more profound than the personal preferences of the members present—and it wasn’t even their first choice—it was to have a lasting effect on Emma’s history, for the colours have become an indelible part of what might be termed the college’s corporate image. A stick of blue and pink rock, branded 'Emmanuel College Cambridge'Publications, publicity material and a profusion of merchandise including clothing, knick–knacks and even confectionery, all sport the Emma hues of blue and pink.

Our Boat Club is thought to have been formed soon after the first inter–collegiate races of 1827, and it is known to have adopted a formal ‘dress’ very early on, although there are no details of its colouring. The earliest surviving Club minute book commences in 1843, and from the beginning contains numerous references to the crews’ kit, for no sartorial detail was deemed too trivial to merit earnest discussion. In December 1850, it was agreed to make ‘certain alterations in the dress of the Club’, the membership eventually deciding that it should henceforth consist of a claret–coloured jersey and neckerchief, and a white straw hat with a ribbon of claret and white stripes. When the Club meetings resumed after the Christmas vacation, however, members learned that the claret jersey had been ‘found impracticable’, a strange choice of words. Perhaps it was felt that the colour was too similar to those already used by some of the other college boat clubs. 

A vintage pink and blue cap with a tassel and crest on the frontA coloured drawing of a man in a pink blazer with a blue edge and a straw hat with a blue ribbon around itA book's title page, reading 'the flags and aquatic costumes of the boat societies in the university of CambridgeThwarted of their initial choice, the membership then had a ‘long debate’ about alternatives, finally agreeing that ‘the outer jersey should be rose–colour bound with dark blue, with a dark blue & shot rose coloured kerchief & dark blue ribbon for the hat’ (L: 1931 minature mascot cap). We are fortunate in having an early depiction of this colourful jersey (which eventually morphed into a more formal blazer) in a concertina–format booklet entitled The Flags and Aquatic Costumes of the Boating Societies in the University of Cambridge (R: Title page & Emmanuel's page)

An embossed menu with the college crest in the centre and a pink and blue ribbon attachedA copy of this little volume is held in the College Library’s Graham Watson Collection, and although undated, stylistic evidence indicates that it was published no later than 1860. The Boat Club was evidently happy with its choice of dark blue and rose, subsequently adding more items to the kit, including a cap with transverse bands, stripy socks, and, in 1885, a jaunty candy–cane–striped blue and rose hat band, to replace the plain one used since 1851. Variations in the blazer’s trimming and badges were introduced to denote Varsity rowers, and to distinguish between May and Lent crews: these things mattered! (L: EBC Menu for Lent Bumps, 1909)

The Emma Cricket Club was founded in 1834, the Tennis Club before 1877, and the Athletics, Football, Rugby and Hockey Clubs by the 1880s, and probably earlier. All of these clubs, and those that followed, chose to use the Boat Club colours, with stylistic variations of course; the Hockey Club, for instance, went for a harlequin jersey, while the cricket and athletics clubs added subtle coloured detailing to their mainly white kits, teamed with decidedly less subtle blazers. The footballers opted for contrasting sleeves and collars, while the rugby club chose horizontal stripes. Modifications to all these kits have been introduced from time to time—thick stripes might be all the rage one decade, thin ones the next—but it was not until recently that the colours themselves began to undergo changes, with the dark blue being given a touch of indigo and the rose being nudged much closer to shocking pink. Every generation naturally has its own preferences, but it is to be hoped that the Emma colours will not stray too far from the originals, for our sporting dress has always been one of the most eye–catching and attractive outfits of any Cambridge college team.

Amanda Goode, College Archivist

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