A Flock of Canada Goose: A Look Into Classism in Winter Clothing
As temperatures drop, students take out their winter coats — often without realizing how much their brand matters.
This article is featured in the 2022 Winter Carnival special issue.
At Dartmouth, winter is synonymous with preparation. The frigid temperatures and infamous “no-snow day” policy can make winter in the Upper Valley almost inhospitable, with every quick jaunt outside demanding layers upon layers. But by far, the most important part of winter preparation is our jacket, the shield that protects students against cutting winds as they trudge to a 9L. It is also the most noticeable element of a winter outfit. A handful of jacket brands dominate the campus, but few stick out quite like Canada Goose and Moncler.
One of the most popular Canada Goose models is the Shelburne Parka, at a price of $1,275. A typical Moncler jacket is around $2,000. At Dartmouth, where around 52%of the student body receives financial aid, the ubiquity of these jackets can seem unbelievable. However, in a 2017 study published in the New York Times, researchers found that the median family income of a student from Dartmouth is $200,400. They also found that 21% of Dartmouth students are in the top 1%, while 4.5% are from the top 0.01% income bracket. While these statistics are readily available on the internet, seeing them mirror reality on campus clearly illuminates the wealth gap at Dartmouth.
Ellie Brown ’25 said she was surprised by the amount of designer-brand jackets on campus.
“I didn’t think it would be as pervasive as it is,” she said. “If you think about it in a general sense, it’s a very small portion of society that has the means to purchase a one thousand dollar jacket for a season. But it’s everywhere. It’s more fascinating than anything. It certainly reveals the socio-economic demographic at Dartmouth.”
Although Brown’s mother offered to buy her a designer coat, she passed, noting they were “more of a status symbol” and that one can buy cheaper coats that are “just as warm, if not more practical” than designer coats.
Anell Paulino ’25 felt that many students were unaware of the wealth divide at Dartmouth.
“I don’t think some students recognize the privilege of some students here until they see the markers of wealth like the jackets or similar things,” Paulino said. “Personally, it reminds me of where I’m from, and that I’m here for a reason. I’m here to get to a point where I don’t have to worry about getting the next paycheck. Seeing people display their wealth is definitely very new and different, but, I mean, it’s Dartmouth. I’m not surprised.”
In sociological terms classism is a form of discrimination or prejudice based on social class. While fashion choices don’t intentionally alienate others, they are symbols of the perceived difference between students that have wealth and those who don’t. Sociology professor Janice McCabe, who is part of the Money Matters — a group of faculty and staff addressing financial accessibility on campus — said that brands like Canada Goose or Moncler act as symbolic indicators of class.
“Because we typically don’t know how much money people have in their bank accounts or how much other people make, we use symbolic markers [like winter jackets] that act as a shorthand for class,” McCabe said. “Clothing is a big marker because it’s often identifiable to people, especially if you’re more class conscious, some people can be more aware of them than others.”
Jeremiah Lozano ’23 noted the designer status of winter clothes creates a “stark divide” between students that have “barebones winter clothing” and those who can afford winter clothes that “cost well over $1000.”
For Paulino, class consciousness is a fixed part of her experience at Dartmouth.
“It just reminds me of my place,” Paulino said. “Obviously, I’m not wealthy and I’ll just say it, I’m not white. So it kind of sadly humbles me. It reminds me that ‘ok, you’re here on a scholarship. You’re [a first-generation, low-income]” student, and you have to work hard.’ Regardless of how hard I work, I still won’t be part of the ‘elite.’ I am one of the outliers at this school,” she said.
The demarcation between the upper 1% and low-income students can create a distinct dichotomy, even at a school in a rural area that prides itself on its separation from outside influences. According to Aiden Casey ’25, the socioeconomic divide between students inextricably creates a social ladder.
“I don’t mean to, but I definitely pass judgment on someone wearing incredibly expensive clothing,” he said. “It certainly creates a distinct class hierarchy on campus. I don’t know if that’s always present, but it’s always in the background.”
According to McCabe, a hierarchical influence exists due to a perception of having a different experience than that of the perceived “mainstream” or “average” Dartmouth experience.
While Gavin Fry ’25 does not prioritize designer brands, he also experienced the pressure of attempting to fit into what is believed to be the Dartmouth experience.
“When I first got here for the [First Year Student Enrichment Program], I thought I had to change who I was for a bit,” Fry said. “I thought I had to get rid of my Southern accent, wear preppier clothes so people would recognize that I was from a ‘decent’ place.”
However, Fry said his initial desire to fit in subsided as he found his place within the Dartmouth community, adding that at the end of the day “we are all people.”
“Even though it is more noticeable during the wintertime, it depends on how you’re able to acknowledge the difference, and how it impacts you,” he said. “When academics start hitting, it really doesn’t matter how well you look in -10 degree weather, it’s more of whether you‘re comfortable or not.”
However, the ability to stay comfortable during winter temperatures can be an arduous task for low-income students. According to Lozano, a Texan, preparing for the winter required extensive preparation.
“Personally, I mainly relied upon the thrifting pop-ups that would happen around here,” Lozano said. “I would catch a bus and go to towns nearby and see if they had any cheap winter clothing. The L.L Bean gift card I received from FYSEP was also helpful.”
Due to the extraordinary costs of winter clothing, FYSEP has offered a voucher program — in the form of L.L.Bean gift cards — that help low-income students buy coats and boots. Jay Davis, program director of FYSEP and the head of the First Generation office, said that his team coordinates resources with other parts of campus to help low-income students.
“We work with partner offices on campus like OPAL and the financial aid office to help ensure that the lowest income students of every first-year class that comes in receive LL Bean gift cards— it’s our priority for each first-year class coming in,” Davis said. “We’ve also tried our best to reach out to sophomores who weren’t on campus their first-year winter to get them some as well.”
The program has been an immense help for students coming from warmer climates such as Fry, who is from Southern Missouri.
“When it was October in my first fall term, midterms were in full swing, clothing wasn’t really on my mind,” he said. “I remember the day I got the email [about the L.L.Bean Vouchers]. It wasn’t just the gesture itself, but it was more of them giving us a list of what we needed. I was thinking [of a] big coat, maybe a toboggan or something. But they went above and beyond.”
Davis also partnered with the Sustainability Office to hold a coat drive in late fall. Fry noted that FYSEP reached out to him via email about the drive, which he found very useful.
“I’ve survived one month of a New England winter so far,” Fry said. “But without the gesture from FYSEP, I wouldn’t have.”
Davis also helped expose students to possible wealth differences on campus during the summer arrival program, in hopes of starting the conversation early about class differences.
“One of our goals with the FYSEP program in August was to help students understand that there’s going to be people here from a wide range of income backgrounds, including students who are able to afford very expensive winter clothing,” Davis said. “We try to demystify that, and we let them know what kind of the basics are, and that you don’t need a fancy coat or status symbols to stay warm.”
Although winter at Dartmouth can mean an enunciation of class differences, it is a part of our daily lives — and a reminder of the greater economic disparities that exist outside of the College. However, the acknowledgment of differences can lead to uncomfortable but necessary conversations about how students experience wealth and privilege — or lack thereof — in individual ways. According to McCabe, students that own Canada Goose jackets may feel guilty talking about the issue, as they may not be seen as working as hard or overly benefitting from their privilege. However, she believes that discussing class issues can help remove some of the feelings of alienation that can take place.
“Willing to be vulnerable is one thing,” McCabe said. “That takes some trust. And it takes time, it’s not something you can really do in a surface-level conversation. You have to be willing to say the wrong thing, and also be having a conversation with a person that is generous enough to let you do that who won’t assume the worst of you. There’s a risk on both sides. But it’s really worth it to understand more about other people’s experiences.”