Hurrah, Erasmus University is celebrating its 103rd birthday today. So the professors can reach for their stoles, caps and gowns, because a birthday is an opportunity to dress up. But where exactly do the Rotterdam gowns come from?

A granite grey business park in the north of Rotterdam. Not somewhere you would immediately associate with the professors wearing their ceremonial dress during today’s Dies Natalis. And yet this is where all the Rotterdam gowns have come from during this past year. “I often hear people saying that they didn’t expect this place,” laughs owner Debby Schout from Toga Atelier Schout. “But these 60 square metres are where all the Erasmus University gowns are made by hand. It takes two or three days to make one gown.”


In the studio, where the constant hum of the sewing machines and a deephouse mix form a special background noise, Schout and her colleagues make around 35 ‘Erasmus gowns’ a year. At first glance it is the same long black ‘coat’ that you see in other universities, but they are actually very different. “The main difference is the use of velvet on the front of the gown and on the sleeves. These panels are much bigger than on other gowns.”

The use of colour is another distinctive factor. Because each faculty has its own colour (from the yellow of Erasmus School of Economics to the light blue of Philosophy), which appears on the gown, the cap and the stole. “Around the sleeve of the gown is a cord in the faculty colour, and the tassel on the cap and the entire stole are also in that colour.”

Organic gowns

The design of the Rotterdam gown has stayed the same for centuries, but Schout has not sat still since she took over from the last tailor last year. “We obviously haven’t changed the design, but we are constantly making improvements to the gown. For example, we are using a new type of fabric, which makes the gown much lighter.” Also new: the organic gown made from organic sheep’s wool. “I feel that’s something you must do these days. Not everyone chooses it, because it’s also slightly more expensive, but that will change.”

Slow fashion

Besides the gowns, Schout made two short capes for the Dies Natalis. “These are for the two professors who are being awarded an honorary doctorate. Actually, the cape has been redesigned this year, for example to include the new colour green of the university.” The university’s birthday doesn’t mean that the professors will all be going out to buy a new gown. Schout therefore categorises the garment as ‘slow fashion’. “A gown has to last between 15 and 20 years. But lots of new professors have come along recently, so we’ve got enough to do.”