LIN: Dress how you truly want in college, regardless of pressure to conform

University students often place too much weight on conforming to a “stereotypical U.Va.” style, which can take away from the college experience

22860113_1685304328180487_7294825589166893857_o

Eddie Lin is a fourth-year student in the College of Arts and Sciences. 

Courtesy Eddie Lin

I believe that University students often place too much weight on conforming to a “stereotypical U.Va.” style. I remember when I was about to enter college, somebody told me I had to “upgrade” my wardrobe with some colored pants, some Vineyard Vines, some Patagonia and a pair of Sperrys. I remember not listening to this and deciding to stick to my comfortable sweatpants because they looked cooler and were more comfortable to me. I wanted to dress how I truly wanted without breaking a budget and succumbing to any pressure. For all those who are entering the University and for everybody already here, I would recommend you do the same. 

After three years, I’ve noticed that while people at the University do dress in a more “preppy” and expensive style than students at most universities, it’s not absolutely homogenous, as there is still some variety. Most people here wear jeans, T-shirts, hoodies, etc. from time to time, so it’s not like everyone is always wearing salmon-colored khakis or Canada Goose to class. However, the pressure to conform still exists, as numerous people have told me that they felt pressure to dress a certain way or at a certain price point to fit in here. That’s completely normal, because by evolution, humans conform to what’s popular with others. 

Julia Coultas, a social researcher at the University of Essex, has stated, “For an individual [in the early human era] joining a group, copying the behaviour of the majority would then be a sensible, adaptive behaviour. A conformist tendency would facilitate acceptance into the group and would probably lead to survival.” Therefore, survival depended on social harmony and dissent could lead to banishment — which was often a death sentence. Our brains today are still hardwired to accept these behaviors, as the tribes of the past are now replaced by the social institutions of the present, albeit with a lessened need for conformity.

While how one dresses today does not usually mean life or death, the survival aspect behind dress style is based on perceptions, because some people are always going to judge your clothes. I wouldn’t wear my sweatpants to a job interview or career fair because the interviewer would make inferences that could cost me important opportunities. However, in this university’s social life, survival usually means “coolness” in some crowds, and conforming to that is silly. 

Yes, there are stories of some sororities and fraternities that allegedly check the tags of dresses or take into consideration the brands of watches and other apparel during the rushing process. And there are also instances of people joking or gossiping to others about the way some dress at parties. But these people are not important enough to justify conforming to dress standards. They aren’t paying us money, and ultimately any “social opportunities” and “clout” with overly-judgmental people aren’t all they’re cracked up to be — in other words, not nearly beneficial enough to justify spending hundreds of dollars on a wardrobe change, or to deviate from personal identity to impress some college classmates. 

I would rather spend time with people and join groups without excessive judgments of clothing and classist attitudes during college. And I would say most people and organizations — including many Greek life groups — here accept a wide variety of dress styles, so the judgment is not significant enough to warrant “upgrading” your wardrobe.

We should all dress how we truly want in social situations and resist the stigma of conforming. Perhaps, in the future, when we have to wear a workplace uniform or certain apparel because of a real “dress code” or important career networking, we can adjust to that. But for now, in college, we should use this opportunity as a time for personal expression. If you want to wear salmon colored pants and Vineyard Vines because you think they truly represent your personal style, go for it. If you’d rather wear sweatpants and a cheap hoodie for the comfort and for your budget, go for that as well. If you like dressing in suits and ties to class to look sharp, that’s great too. 

We should respect all the ways people dress, and if others want to exclude you in social settings based on the way you dress or the price you pay, that’s not cool and they’re not worth it. Ultimately, it’s important to truly be yourself here, not only in how you dress, but in what activities, hobbies and major you choose — and more. In the midst of what can be a high pressure environment, discovering what we truly value, absent of what others think, is important and a valuable skill for growth. So, please remember that whether you’re coming to U.Va. this fall or are already here, you’re already U.Va. enough.

Eddie Lin is a fourth-year student in the College of Arts and Sciences. 

related stories