Fashion for the College Girl
For the main portion of my young adult life up until this point, I’ve felt confined into a box. But it’s not the typical box cornered by teen angst and itching rebellion as is usual in teenagers. The box I was fitted into was regarding my fashion choices and daily outfits I wear, something that is linked to my identity as much as the words that I write.
I’ve never seen Fashion as the materialistic soul-sucking world where you chose impressing others over comfort and ease or a popularity contest where you’d do anything to be put on the best-dressed list. These are stereotypes that are sometimes true when style and money fall into the wrong hands. But to me, Fashion is the conscious effort of what we tell the world about ourselves. It’s an individual expression that shows our personality and confidence, more than it gives us personality and confidence.
I didn’t know there were words for it then, but this insane desire to show my personality and passion in clothing started in Kindergarten when the girls came to school in dresses and stockings picked out by their moms every morning before breakfast. My mother, on the other hand, took me to popular children’s clothing stores and let me pick out whatever I wanted (under a reasonable budget). It was like a kid in the candy store, only the kid was enthralled with the fabrics and patterns that hung on the walls, and the candy was lasting art you could wear forever (or for another 6 months until you grew into the next size).
While the other girls were dressed in polka dot dresses with matching tights and snap-in bows laced in their ponytails, I proudly walked through the halls like it was my catwalk in tinted green jeans and furry shirts that did not fit well with the early-fall heat. But it didn’t matter if the shirt sealed in a layer of uncomfortable perspiration underneath. It was different, it was beautiful, and it was me. This shirt was worth it.
Shopping became a favorite pastime of my mothers and mine, a consistent bonding experience that would last well past my green-pants era. Even when purchasing wasn’t an option in the more high-end department stores, we liked to look for beautiful things. My mother and I have always shared an appreciation for clothing and jewelry, because I believe we easily see beauty, both in clothing and in people; traits that I have very much learned from her.
Eventually I grew out of my furry shirt and green pants, and went to middle school questioning my style more than I ever had before. Without realizing it, I was desperate for an identity that made me both standout from the others but not be an obvious target for gossip and whisper. If I wore something outlandish or too out of place, I worried the confidence would backfire and people would laugh at me. The sureness I had always had in myself vanished like clogs on the runway.
My style adapted to my friends, being more “Emo” or “rebellious” than I ever thought I’d be. I wore jelly bracelets and sharpied-on Converse, looking to Hot Topic for inspiration. But this wasn’t me anymore than the awkward unconfident preteen I was.
When I got to high school I threw out my neon blue pants and jelly bracelets, finally realizing the “me” I wanted to be was more sophisticated: more elegant but still wild enough to show that I didn’t take myself or life too seriously (yes, I do think that much into my clothing). But I was faced with even greater problems. Every morning before school I yearned for stiletto heels to wear with my jeans or a perfect (faux) leather jacket to throw over dresses.
But as a freshman, I was scared to be too stylish (or what I thought style was as a fifteen-year-old… usually something unflattering). I was already being recognized for the creative outfits I loved to put together, but I knew what I was capable of and I knew what I wanted. But I was scared of wearing items that were too different than what anyone wears to my small private high school. I guess I was worried the upperclassmen would think I was trying too hard or I was too strange to be “cool”. But with age came confidence and I felt happy, comfortable, and normal when I finally let myself wear cheetah-print stilletos with jeans and a graphic t-shirt.
Momentarily, I felt free from the box, like the lid had opened and I could breath again. I immediately felt flashbacks of walking through the halls as a six year old in a furry turtleneck over a layer of sweat and feeling like the coolest girl in the world. My inhibitions fell away and I felt the confidence and support that I could wear whatever I wanted (I’d never wanted to disobey the dress code, so that wasn’t a problem for me. Sweatpants and low-cut tops never held any appeal, even when I did care about attracting boys. I still much preferred to wear a pencil skirt than with a plunging v-neck and push-up bra).
But after some time of this exhilarating freedom, my mother stepped in. she forbid me to wear heels to school, and rightfully so. As a teenager, I was wearing heels from 8am to 4pm, Pointe shoes in ballet class at night, and usually the weekend called for higher heels than on weekdays. At the rate I was going, my feet were going to give out on me before I even reached an age when it was appropriate to wear heels everyday. Regardless of the reasons, I was back in the box, waiting for the limitless expression I was dying for.
Now I’m in college and I feel more trapped in the box than ever. I thought college would bring sophistication and freedom, but instead I feel more childish than ever, fashion-wise.
College has very specific uniforms. It is almost necessary to wear sport clothes or sweatpants to class, and then something revealing and simple to parties at night. These uniforms are rules, unofficially written into college life as much as No-Drinking-In-The-Dorms or 17 credit hours a semester.
This certainly isn’t me. I’d be comfortable in sweatpants only if they were studded, slim-fit, and paired with crisp white heels. Revealing tops and low-rise jeans don’t really feel like I’m getting the attention I want, unless of course it was for the sake of fashion, not the sake of a boy.
It’s not necessarily the worry of being different. I think my heels in high school and furry shirts in Kindergarten display my lack of fear, nay, my need to standout. It’s really just impossible to be creative with your outfits. Long walks across campus limit shoe options and not having a car limits finding cheap stores to search and search for the pieces that are who I want to show the world I am.
So to get my fix, I keep outfit ideas scribbled in notebooks and in my phone, and scroll through fashion bloggers on Instagram to feel at home. There’s still the occasional brunch or sorority party where I can feel the ability to wear whatever I want (and I may go a little over the top), but I still feel confined in the same box, even though that box has a few more studs or diamonds than the average box.
However, I know one day that the little girl with the tinted green pants and furry shirt will burst out, unafraid, confident and more daring than ever. Until then, I guess leggings and t-shirts will have to do. But never without a fur vest, reminiscent of that little girl that would be proud of the person I am today, box or not.
Trends change, but I never really do.