The Authenticity And Deceptiveness Of Fashion At A Southern College

“What are those called!? Where can I buy a pair? How much are they??”

Three summers ago, those were the questions James asked after I had swiped myself back into our dorm and given him a peek inside the Nike box sheltering the brand new pair of Air Max 90 “Infrareds” I had freshly copped from the mall. Born and raised in Maryland, I can proudly assert that I am a sneakerhead–a veteran in the game since 5th grade. Surrounded by unfamiliar faces, few friends, and admittedly feeling a bit left out, it was reassuring to strike up a new friendship rooted in the same, familiar interest that had brought together so many of my friends during high school. A week later, James was sporting a pair of Air Max 90s in a different colorway…mission accomplished…

If we fast-forward four years to the present, truth be told, I’m now a seasoned senior, finally knee-deep in my last semester at the University. What inspired me to write this article is an epiphany I had walking back home from the library the other night. After passing what had to be the seventh or eighth male student sporting a pair of Air Max 90s, it suddenly hit me: James wasn’t interested in buying a pair of 90s from a sneakerhead’s standpoint—it was because he, early on, had picked up on the fact that Air Max 90s were to become the sneaker of choice for the textbook bro. After four years of mingling amongst different scenes, skating to class past cats, and attending hundreds of lectures with thousands of different students, I finally put two and two together. Your khaki/corduroy pant wearing, oversized flannel sporting, high school “St. ______” jacket repping, Titleist snapback prepping frat star loves his Air Max 90s. I wouldn’t have believed it then, but I wasn’t the only freshman searching for his place at college. I simply didn’t express and pursue this desire by choosing to embrace a particular identity because my peers were doing so.

During my four years of college, I’ve learned that Vineyard Vines is not a grape line; on a good day I can correctly pronounce Patagonia, you can buy bean boots from L.L Bean, duck boots are real, girls like leggings…a lot, especially when they can pair them with their Hunter boots on a rainy day. While we’re on the topic of female fashion, apparently wearing high top socks over leggings/tights with running shoes is an acceptable fashion statement. Last but not least, you have to own a Barbour jacket–that’s a must.

All sarcasm aside, one of the most important things I’ve learned during my time here is this: no matter how much it may be denied or promptly shut down, most of my peers are naturally drawn to seeking comfort in being accepted by others. If this means dropping $400 on a jacket because we believe it will better our chances of being welcomed by a certain group, or fronting like the first shirt you picked out of your drawer this morning just happened to have the outline of a huge whale on the back, so be it.

The opening bars of “Attack of the Clones” by rising MC (and my neighborhood homeboy) Uno Hype goes, “One day you should grow into your own / Be your own person, never be a clone.” The culture of actively trying to fit in through one’s fashion choices is an aspect of my school that I will never understand. Exactly why it is acceptable to wear a frat/srat philanthropy shirt three out of five days of the school week will always remain a mystery to me. Does it not bore you to have on yesterday’s same exact look? Does it not annoy you that you are dressed essentially the same way as every fifth girl that you come across? Maybe this irks me because I was raised by a woman who not only has a strong fashion sense, but who has also always championed individuality–individuality not in terms of being a loner and putting oneself above the team, but individuality in the sense of having the outmost confidence in who you are, and not being swayed by the majority.

While I was growing up, my mother loved to give me advice: “It doesn’t matter if I’m at your school or hosting the President of the United States–I will always look my best and find confidence in doing so,” or “Only the chosen few walk the narrow path, yet many troop on the wide road of destruction.” These were to boost my self-esteem and deter me from peer pressure. My mom did the perfect job of grooming me not to aspire to be a rebel, but also not to gravitate towards being a “Mr. Me Too.”

At the same time, I can acknowledge a few credible counter arguments: there are indeed some guys and gals who are clueless when it comes to fashion, or they honestly could care less, so they simply adopt, or are rather predisposed to take on the looks of their inner circle. To those guys and girls I would advise you to holla at your boy for a wardrobe revamp (kidding…sort of). Then there are others who truly live this life. Whether they are the product of this particular culture because their parents went here, or they have older siblings who have trained them to appreciate looking fratty/sratty, I have no right to tell them to change who they are. Who am I to knock you for how you were raised? The kids who have flipped their style, or who are obviously ‘trying too hard’ are the individuals I simply don’t get. I never have, and I never will.

During my four years of college, I have met individuals like my boy Kevin who religiously rocks paisley bandanas and bright floral shirts…with no shoes on, California all the way–or my homie O’Shea who keeps it fresh while pulling off today’s various streetwear looks. I have to shoutout my man Jor, the “King of Sophistication.” My girl Caroline is not your average blonde; you have to checkout her sneaker game–Jordans for days. There are many ‘fashion faces’ to Isabelle, and they are all spot-on. Finally there is Annie Wilkins…who is well, Annie Wilkins. I implore readers to not feel discouraged, or further pressured walking amongst the ‘dittos’ and ‘puppets’ of your University.  There are certainly gems who not only authentically represent their unique backgrounds, but by doing so will open your eyes and introduce you to new fashion possibilities. When I mentioned this the other day to Taylor, who had reached out for advice on how to gain a better perspective of fashion at our school, she couldn’t believe it. “Wait—you know people who don’t dress prep?!” Trust me, they exist. When I founded my school’s first fashion/style web show last year, this is exactly the myth I planned to debunk. Despite the Southern stereotype our school is branded with, the University’s student body is actually quite diverse, evident in the various fashion statements that I come across. I’m sure yours is too; just look a little harder and don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed by the “Southern college” stereotype. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

More From Thought Catalog