I don’t “dress to impress”

Turns out Hawaiian shirts bring out the worst — but also maybe the best — in me


Olivia Tilson es columnista de vida para The Cavalier Daily.

Emma Klein | Cavalier Daily

Over my time in college, I’ve realized the worse my outfit, hair or makeup, the more fun I have. I think I essentially enjoy my outfit for its fun factor rather than its attractiveness. My quirky outfits often allow me to stop focusing on my own appearance entirely, which can be refreshing. I feel less self conscious once I accept that my outfit is not great by conventional standards  —  meaning it does not focus on making me look thinner, taller or any of the traditional goals of women’s clothing. 

Recently, this hypothesis was solidified through my choice to wear an ill-fitting Hawaiian shirt to a party — there wasn’t a theme, and this wasn’t a darty. I know a Hawaiian shirt is not in itself that odd, but I paired it with a skirt, aggressively large hoop earrings and fake tanner. All in all, it was a vibrant, but not particularly flattering outfit — which was kind of the point. I didn’t have to look bad to have a good time — I just needed to give up on looking good or meeting any rigid beauty standard. 

Not to beat everyone over the head with a feminist stick — but girls are generally held to higher standards than boys in terms of appearance, especially in social settings and when going out. I do like clothes, and I like getting ready with my friends, but I don’t always enjoy being self-conscious when I’m supposed to be having a good time. 

Just to make things clear too — I liked this outfit. I thought — and still think — it was kind of cool, although the fake tan did look a bit streaky. I just decided to try out some new things. I’m not telling people to go out in outfits they don’t like or aren’t excited about — exactly the opposite.

I want clothes to be a fun and personal thing again. Maybe others still wear what they like or prefer, but I have found that people usually dress “to impress” or fit in — especially on the weekends — rather than for themselves. Often, we think about what makes us look attractive to others or what will look best in photos. This, at least, was how I used to decide what to wear. 

For inspiration, I read the “Man Repeller” blog sometimes, and — as the title suggests — it is not a website dedicated to looking attractive in a heteronormative sense. This website was founded with the intention of combining intellectualism, humor and fashion in an inherently casual and open medium. It is run largely by women who embrace clothing, jewelry and makeup that is body-positive, individualistic and emphasizes experimentation and creativity.

The founder, Leandra Medine, points out that “Man Repeller” is a fluid, undefinable website that means different things to different women. To me, it celebrates fashion and the fashion industry, while also celebrating women’s bodies.

These women aren’t dressing a certain way or wearing makeup to hide aspects of themselves or alter aspects of themselves. They are enjoying clothing and fashion as an art form — a form of expression not based on their own self-worth. Most magazines and websites dedicated to fashion tend to make girls feel bad about themselves, but “Man Repeller” does fashion a little differently than most major magazines.

Their website and articles seem to approach fashion and appearance with a more casual approach that does not attribute one’s appearance to one’s self worth. They elevate the status of clothes but also take away some of their control over women. Rather than focusing on what makes the women of “Man Repeller” look good, these women seem to focus on what makes the clothes look good. Thereby, “Man Repeller” celebrates clothing which is less indicative beauty standards. Good doesn’t have to mean attractive — it can mean different or nostalgic or funny. 

Recently, one of the writers, Harling Ross, wrote about the “dressing like a stick of butter” trend which heavily features khaki pants, cream-colored sweaters and off-white shoes. It is not a trend that I would call traditionally flattering, but it’s refreshing and eccentric — like art. 

I admit, my Hawaiian shirt outfit looked kind of odd on me, but this outfit truly allowed me to have a better night. I wasn’t dressing with the goal of looking bad or with a specific agenda against beauty standards — but I realized choosing clothing that is intentionally “offbeat” allows me to worry less about my appearance and, thus, enjoy life more.

Olivia Tilson is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com. 

related stories