It may be a stretch to try to present University Challenge as a prism through which to view young men's changing attitudes to fashion and self-expression – but here goes anyway.

The idea that it might be comes courtesy of one Kamel Shah, a member of the team from King's College Cambridge which appeared on the programme earlier this month. As war raged in the Middle East, the refugee crisis worsened and the Labour Party prepared to take aim at its own foot, the news headlines were given over instead to Mr Shah's University Challenge get-up: a thick gold chain and a leather vest.

"Get up and leave and don't come back" might be a better way of describing it. Certainly that was the judgement of many social media users. "Hate to judge a book by its cover," tweeted comedian David Baddiel, "but so far the bloke in the leather vest and bling has lost my old college 10 points." Some people even called for him to be arrested.

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That's a bit steep. Vests aren't actually illegal and as television studios are notoriously hot it seems sensible to dress accordingly. More importantly we should lay off Mr Shah because what we witnessed was a demonstration of how fashion forward young British men have become, and how savvy they now are about the impression their fashion choices can make. And Mr Shah made a big impression. He also proved that just because you're young and buff and dress like a rapper it doesn't mean you can't name the French commander Field Marshal Mack surrendered to at Ulm in 1805.

Look back over the history of how University Challenge teams have dressed and you can see a very definite change, a movement from bland uniformity to the sort of sparkling 21st century individualism Mr Shah clearly possesses.

My highly unscientific study of the subject begins with a trawl through the handful of websites which collect and collate vintage University Challenge photos. As the years pass, the Beyond The Fringe look of jacket and tie and foppish side-parting gives on to something more Messiah-like in the 1970s. (I had hoped Jesus College Cambridge might provide the first instance of a contestant with long hair and a beard but actually it's the 1973 team from Fitzwilliam College Cambridge. And he's called Curry).

So far so bland. But from there we start to witness the first stirrings of something. I wouldn't call it fashion sense exactly – neither would you if could see what the 1983 Dundee University team is wearing – but it's a very definite move in that direction. Of course the story isn't all about forward momentum because there will always be a novelty jumper on a Keele student or a red gowned St Andrews team looking like extras from The Name Of The Rose. But still, the direction of travel is clear and, personally I think it should be encouraged rather than denigrated. So here's a starter for 10: would you rather live in a country where men have to conform to some sort of bogus sartorial standard or where they're free to express themselves on primetime television in a leather simmet and "bling"?