Some campus fashion trends are like a virus — starting slowly, but eventually replicating to the point that it’s obvious that the student population is infected. At this point, the trending item in question ceases to be “original” and it becomes apparent that some influential force beyond personal preference is informing the masses when it comes to fashion.
For this reason, my favorite part of the school year is September, when everyone’s wardrobes are still relatively original. It’s also a lot of fun to observe the “peacocking” that happens on campus. There’s a bit of — albeit concealed — back-to-school enthusiasm in which both male and female students enjoy showing off the best of their wardrobe in hopes of establishing their status in the social hierarchy and possibly attracting the eye of a romantic partner.
I’ve observed that come October, however, the stress of school begins to sets in and students usually fall into a fashion rut. That is to say, students tend to slip back into old habits. And I mean the old habits where you take the path of least resistance to get out the front door. Don’t pretend that you don’t know what I’m talking about ladies — within one month I predict a great revival of Lululemon leggings and increased visual frequency of what I term the “ubiquitous brown boot.”
The ubiquitous brown boot is probably the most common species of footwear you’ll encounter at the University of Saskatchewan. It is most frequently spotted in the configuration known as “almond toe with a tall shaft,” although they are also common in the Ugg and lace-up variety. And if it’s not paired with Lululemon leggings, it will most likely be paired with a dark skinny jean. You might even call it the unofficial school uniform.
I understand the siren call of the ubiquitous brown boot. It’s comfortable, it’s stylish and if you rolled out of bed 20 minutes before class, it prevents you from degenerating into hobo status. Brown leather — in all of its shades from amber to chestnut — is aesthetically pleasing in it’s warmth and earthy beauty. It says, “Hey, I may have gone to a weeknight pub crawl and only got three hours of sleep last night, but I’m a friendly, approachable person just like the charming cognac tones of my boot.”
That’s the problem.
You see, the ubiquitous brown boot has reached epidemic proportions at the university. It’s at nearly the same level of saturation as the Herschel backpack and I’m concerned that if drastic measures are not taken, it will eventually transform the female student population into an army of bland, brown-boot wearing automatons.
Satire and anti-capitalist angst aside, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with brown boots or Lululemon, and I certainly don’t think there’s anything wrong with dressing down. It’s common knowledge that the media places unrealistic expectations on women to maintain an impossible standard of physical and sartorial perfection and I certainly will not add to that, so please interpret the preceding written specimen in light of these sentiments.
Although I do think it would be interesting to try to “commit sociology” and dig a little deeper into the phenomena of campus-wide clothing trends such as Lululemon, brown boots and the like.
Let’s take a look at the North Face windbreaker and the Canada Goose parka to highlight some of the more conspicuous and pervasive campus clothing items.
One psychological motivator that might factor into the purchase of a North Face jacket is the availability of stunningly vibrant and attractive colours. For instance, some of the striking greens, pinks and purples really pack a pleasing visual punch. The last time I checked the North Face website, their highly popular women’s Venture jacket came in a whopping 17 different shades, with names as fetching as their various pigments: Fanfare Green, Parlour Purple and Rambutan Pink. Of course, the jacket also has some technical features such as an environmentally-friendly water resistant membrane, brushed chin guard lining, pit-zips and a hem cinch-cord — all of which are included in the $130 price tag. It’s not exorbitant, but it is more expensive than other brands.
In the case of the Canada Goose parka, the quality of the materials and construction are said to be beyond comparison. Apparently, the down is Canadian-sourced and the fur trim is from humanely trapped coyotes. Heavens above, sometimes the winters here are barely survivable, so I wouldn’t begrudge someone a warm winter coat.
Although is it really the quality that is the primary drawing card in these cases? When considering that Canada Goose jackets can cost up to the equivalent of one-fifth of your annual tuition, doesn’t the possibility that there are other incredibly toasty, well-made, handsome, down-filled coats available for much less enter anyone’s mind?
Or maybe another motive behind fashion fads is that women tend to become caught up in positive feedback loops. Perhaps women generally buy clothing because we think the item in question possesses some aspect of beauty, which in turn is intended to enhance our level of physical attractiveness. If this is true, then as the item becomes seen more frequently on campus, the increased visibility reinforces the idea that the upward-trending piece is beautiful and desirable, which in turn increases buying behavior. After all, 500 women wearing the same item can’t be wrong, right? Then again, if 500 women are wearing the same item, there’s nothing to really differentiate your beauty from the next woman, is there?
Maybe it’s not the beauty, quality or technical features that are at the forefront of the thinking process for those who purchase these items. Maybe participation in campus-wide trends such as North Face jackets, Canada Goose parkas, Ugg boots, Lululemon pants, Herschel backpacks, Hunter boots, New Balance runners, high-top sneakers and iPhones are more instinctive, a way of communicating our status as a member of the group or at least of the “desirable” group. It’s a means of fitting in — or at the very least — of not standing out.
If this is true, then participation in homogeneity is not only inclusionary — it can actually become an exclusionary act. By wearing our “on-trend” item, we are not only proclaiming membership of the “desirable” social group, we are also advertising which group we are not a part of: the less desirables or — even worse — the social deviants. In other words, the clothes we wear can become identity markers of social class which inform others as to who we do and don’t associate with.
But before you write this article off as an unnecessary piece of psychological nonsense, consider this: what would it mean for an Ugg-lover to switch to a pair of no-name shearling boots? On the other hand, if someone still wanted to spend $800 to $1,000 on a high-end performance brand coat, why not buy a label with greater variation in design that no one else is wearing, such as Moncler or Rossignol? Resistance to switching, even in light of the common-sense implications for those on a student budget, implies that the meanings attached to these brand name items are highly entrenched social constructions. In other words, we are caught in the fashion matrix and Morpheus wants you to get out while you still can.
When viewed through the lens of art, there is an inherent value in fashion as personal expression of our moods and personalities. If you choose to express yourself through a pair of soggy, weather-beaten Uggs, so be it. Similarly, if you choose to wear a knee-length tunic silk screened with a picture of your lunch last week at Denny’s, so be it. As far as subjective artistic expression goes, both are equally valid points of view.
However, if we are truly expressing ourselves and not succumbing to the pull of the latest trend, it is highly unlikely that we would all choose — independent of external influences — to wear Hunter boots. Such conformity is incompatible with the infinite diversity of human personality, each one defined with distinct and unique quirks, eccentricities and talents.
Post-secondary education is a window of opportunity in an environment of critical thought to engage in non-conformist self-exploration — as far as fashion is concerned — with minimal repercussions. It may even be the last opportunity to engage in such free expression that you’ll have before entering the “real” world, so why not rethink what you’re wearing, take advantage of the college experience and go wild.
Perhaps someone will even dare to wear a red boot or a non-sanctioned backpack.