Once a new member has been selected, recovered from their initiation, and arranged for the repair of their rooms, their next task is to purchase the club’s official outfit. The required items can only be purchased from a single tailor on Oxford’s High Street but, unlike other aspects of the club, the distinctive get-up is both widely-known and feared by landlords and restaurateurs alike. Published club rules from 1850 dictate that ‘the Uniform of the club shall consist of a Blue Tie, Blue Coat, Brass Buttons, Buff Waistcoat, [and] Blue Trousers’, and today’s Buller strictly adheres to these instructions.
The requirement for members to possess great personal wealth is not just outrageous snobbery but a practicality. The full complement of tailcoat, bowtie, and waistcoat costs a staggering £3, 500 ($4, 955 at the time of writing), and will be subject to all manner of food, alcohol, and bodily fluids over its lifetime. The tailor in question, Ede & Ravenscroft, was established in London in 1689, and its Oxford branch supplies academic dress along with its unofficial capacity as the Bullingdon-tailor. The company holds Royal Warrants to provide tailored items to the British Royal Family, including Queen Elizabeth herself.
Although Ede & Ravenscroft refuse to discuss their dealings with the club, there is still a photograph from 1925 hanging in the Oxford shop, which shows a bewildering number of influential people in the Bullingdon uniform. The shop also serves as a Bullingdon archive, though again is reticent to discuss this aspect of its business. According to one whistleblower, a room at the back of the shop contains a photographic treasure-trove dating back 80 years, revealing many former members who wish to keep their involvement a secret. The shop removed its pictures of current politicians in Bullingdon gear in 2015.
It may come as a surprise that the Bullingdon, a supposedly-secret society subject to an omertà policy, has a designated outfit (and even a blue-and-white tie for less-official events) that openly reveals its members, but it seems content so long as its indiscretions are not revealed to the public. In the age of social media, the club’s clandestine aspirations are becoming harder to maintain. In February 2018, members of the club were videoed being kicked out of an Oxford University Conservative Association party. Although not wearing the official outfit, the chants of ‘Buller, Buller, Buller’ made this a non-issue.
At the same party, members were accused of sexually harassing and groping female partygoers, culminating in the welcome suspension of one of the accused from the OUCA. Shockingly, although the Trinity Hall Dean fumed that ‘however entitled you may feel about yourselves, there is absolutely no excuse for this behaviour’, a motion to ban Bullingdon members from the OUCA committee was defeated. It is not hard to link the appalling behaviour exhibited by the entitled upper-class members of the Bullingdon to the President’s Club scandal, which occurred almost simultaneously, in which wealthy men subjected waitresses to sexual harassment.