Chin: More Than A Fashion Trend
Wearing sweatpants to class is a college stereotype, but I’ve rarely seen this phenomenon occur at the College. In fact, one might even feel out of place in jeans and a T-shirt. While athletic gear and Dartmouth gear are mildly popular, more common are Sperry boat shoes, pastel Bermuda shorts, leather boots and cardigans. One might even get the impression of walking through a J.Crew ad — which is not surprising, since the closest clothing store to campus is J.Crew.
Being surrounded by preppy fashion at Dartmouth is to be expected — this style of dress has long been favored by America’s East Coast elite. Preppy clothing is so tied to the public’s view of Ivy League culture that there are blogs dedicated to this style, such as “Ivy Style,” “Ivy League Style” and “The Ivy League Look,” which feature young adults dressed in loafers, button-downs and tailored shorts. For some, being part of this idealized fashion trend can create a sense of pride and belonging, but for those who do not dress this way it can be problematic and induce anxiety. Many freshmen that I have talked to said they feel uncomfortable or not up-to-par with their peers when they wear “street clothes.” The number of students who choose to dress preppy is a subtle indication of the often-unseen socioeconomic gap on this campus.
The popularity of the preppy style on campus is bound to make students who dress differently feel self-conscious about their clothing. I find myself paying even closer attention to the way I dress in response to the style trends at Dartmouth. Yet at the root of the issue is not simply the social pressure to dress a certain way — it is the expectation that one is able to dress a certain way. While some fashion trends are as simple as “wear red, not blue,” the trends prevalent on Dartmouth’s campus are contingent on money. Though I wear knit cardigans and tweed skirts fairly often, I doubt that I own as many preppy items of clothing as it seems some other students do.
Affordability is the primary issue with Ivy League fashion trends. Most well-known prep brands, like Ralph Lauren, J.Crew and Lacoste, sell high-priced clothing, while knock-off brands are often regarded as undesirable. In this way, preppy clothing conveys not only a certain taste in fashion, but also socioeconomic privilege. In a culture of subtly conspicuous consumption, inaccessibility to this type of clothing can make one feel uncomfortable or out of place.
Even if one manages to acquire the necessary articles of clothing, Ivy League fashion requires more than mere purchasing power. An article by Mike Steere on the aforementioned blog, “The Ivy League Look,” details other aspects of this style, which include confident posture, athletic build and the desire to “cultivate snobbery.” Despite the article’s light-hearted tone, it is not far-fetched to suggest that preppiness and snobbery go hand in hand. For most students, wearing preppy clothing does not necessarily reflect any particular negative character traits, but the inaccessibility of this culture naturally invites a bit of snobbery and distance from other socioeconomic classes. At the very least, other students may feel like outsiders simply because they see large groups of peers all dressed in a similar fashion, regardless of how friendly those peers may be.
One post on the Facebook group Dartmouth Class Confessions reads, “I don’t go to parties/campus events sometimes because I don’t have anything to wear.” The author of the post also wrote that everyone else had dresses and other nice clothing to wear, while the author did not. “I feel like people notice this and think less of me,” the student wrote.
Worrying about meeting peers’ expectations can hurt a student’s confidence and thus negatively affect their social life and academic performance. A simple thing like wearing clothes may not seem to have much significance, but it is actually one of the few constant, visible reminders of class differences on campus. Especially in settings where preppy dress is the norm, it may be confusing and daunting for a person in comfortable sweatpants or ripped skinny jeans to navigate the social scene. There is nothing wrong with dressing preppy — many find this look appealing and comfortable. Yet more students should be aware of what their clothes connote and the divide among those who choose this fashion, those who choose other styles and those who cannot make that choice.