Garrett Vaughn

THE UNSPOKEN UNIFORM: STRUGGLING TO FIT IN AND REMAIN UNIQUE

You find yourself in an all too familiar place. You’ve overslept and are scrambling to gather clothes before you head off to work or school. You’re hastily throwing on your socks and shirt and shoes, only to come to the realization that the last piece of clothing you need to complete your wardrobe is in the dirty clothes hamper. Perhaps now your walking out of the door with a shirt that clashes with your sneakers, or you’re wearing something that just turned your outfit all the way from fashion forward to fashion faux pas. “Clothes are central to the way … bodies are experienced, presented and understood within culture,” argues the scholar Julia Twigg and this analysis probably resonates even stronger with the millennial generation. In a age that has increasingly become me-centric, clothing exists as another medium by which to market ourselves without opening our mouths.

“I love seeing my child well-dressed. It makes me happy. It makes her happy,” reported Kelly Mallon, a 39 year old resident of Manhattan. Mallon routinely outfitted her daughter in clothing from well know Italian designer Missoni and tops from designer Milly’s year-old children’s line called Milly Minis. ‘It’s not a little girl playing dress up. She’s in her own clothes made for her.” Clothing has first evolved from its utilitarian purpose and transformed us into what some would call a walking billboard, letting companies constantly market and advertise even after their three minute commercials are over. In this generation’s necessity to remain constantly unique, we simultaneously create an unspoken uniform. One study conducted at a junior high school in England found that “[c]ertain items and brand names acquired a specific, symbolic value, and pupils who attempted to dress and conform to the school rules and regulations ran a high risk of being stigmatized and subordinated.”

Arguably, there isn’t anything entirely wrong with clothing grouping us together, and exhibits like The Power of Fashion reinforce that clothing for many millennium has been integral to the formation of culture, camaraderie, and identity. Yet, jut how conscious are we when we buy those jeans from H&M, or scour the internet looking for the right pair of designer shoes?

Fashion and branding has an exceptionally stronger relationship with today’s youth than any other generation. Clothing becomes the “social fabric” and currency between teens and young adults, and a way to measure who’s “in” and who’s “out,” or simply who possesses social power. Dress codes enforced in both public and private educational institutions may seem to a lot of teens an infringement upon their self-expression. The enforcement of dress codes is in part to curtail “competition over appearance [that] can result in verbal taunts, fights, and thefts.” Yet, increasingly these dress code rules only target girls and young women and are argued by some to another form of “slut shaming,” where teachers become the objectifiers, pulling girls aside to mandate how much skin their clothing shows or the length of their shorts. Discussions about gender also pervade conversations about clothing and identity. So succinctly put, “if the main function of clothing is to literally cover up or hide our sex, then the main focus of fashion is to exploit our gender.”

1. Before you go to work or school, do you set out your outfit before hand?
Most of the time yes. Sometimes, I’ll ask the kids what they want me to wear. This week for example because it was finals week they wanted me to wear the colors of the rainbow. So I started with the reds, orange, green, blue… and then I moved to pink and next I’ll do black and white. However when I’m not taking requests and I know I want to wear a solid color the next day, say for example, blue, or pink, I will definitely set out my out for the next day.

2. What would you identify your style as?
I would say my style is flashy. At least at school. I don’t usually dress like this of course, this is just for the kids, but I like to play with colors and look nice.

3. Can you identify a particular style that your friends wear? (specific items, brands, etc)
Hmm, from my observations most of my friends wear normal clothes. Guys in particular could use a better look. Guys at least in my circle of friends wear of a lot of sport clothes, just a lot of normal clothes, stuff that fits. However, when I first started dressing up at school and talking to my other friends about it, my cousin who is college age was doing something similar and he started to buy a lot of clothes from thrift shops. I’ve shopped at a couple of thrift stores too, but usually I shop at Express, Banana Republic, and Calvin Klein because they have my sizes.

4. Have you ever felt pressured to adopt a certain style, conform to a type of dress, or buy a certain brand because someone in your social did so?
No. Not at all! Me dressing the way I dress is a lot more … self-pressure. Dressing nice makes my actions feel a lot more careful and precise too. It is a really good feeling.

5. How has your style evolved over time?
At first I didn’t intend to buy a lot of solid colors but it just sort of ended up that way and I was able to make a lot of outfits like okay… I had one full red outfit then maybe one blue outfit, and the more I wore them the more the kids responded so I continued on with it and my collection kept growing. That is how my style has evolved.

1. Before you go to work or school, do you set out your outfit before hand?
Nope. Usually I don’t.

2. What would you identify your style as?
Bo Ho chic and whatever fits me.

3. Can you identify a particular style that your friends wear? (specific items, brands, etc)
I think my friends and I definitely wear a lot of Patagonia, and I would say its a mix of outdoors and preppy.

4. Have you ever felt pressured to adopt a certain style, conform to a type of dress, or buy a certain brand because someone in your social did so?
Not recently, more so in school when I was younger, but now I pretty much wear what I want and what feels good to me.

5. Are there times when you do set aside an outfit? What are the certain event/time
Yes absolutely. The first day of school, the back to school picnic, and prom are all events that I make sure to set out my outfit for. I do this for several reasons, one because I’m nervous and I want to make sure my outfit sends out a good representation of who I am and is also school appropriate. I want something that will make a good impression and by setting out outfits for those few events I feel a lot more ready and clean and relaxed.

6. How has your style evolved over time?
I think my style has evolved a lot because of my body changing and becoming a bigger women. Now., I’m not as entirely concerned about what I wear or weather it matches as I am that it fits and it is comfortable. Especially after my other passed I really began to look for clothing that was soft and comfortable, so these are really the two big factors in how my clothing has evolved. A lot of the material that I wear has soft and cozy fabric, and I think that was always the case, but more so after my mother past definitely.

1. Before you go to work or school, do you set out your outfit before hand?
No.

2. What would you identify your style as?
I think my style is casual. And it includes a lot of sweaters.

3. What do you define “casual” as?
For me casual is not being extremely particular about what I wear. Maybe not throwing together two incredibly different things, but just wearing something that fits and I find comfortable in. Casual is more focused on how I feel than maybe wearing something to appeal to someone else.

4. Can you identify a particular style that your friends wear? (specific items, brands, etc)
Free People, Forever 21, Lulu Lemons. I think some of my friends have a very edgy style. Edgy in the sense that they deliberately wear things that might get them in trouble or would cause someone to say something about what they are wearing. For example, my friend has a F**K You shirt that she wears and sometimes teachers will say something and other times they see it but don’t say anything. Other examples are like Huff socks that a lot of people wear around. It think it’s edgy because its like they are hinting maybe that they smoke, but there isn’t really any way to prove that unless you see them.

5. Have you ever felt pressured to adopt a certain style, conform to a type of dress, or buy a certain brand because someone in your social did so?
Not as much now, but my Freshman year yes. Coming from a school with a uniform I was looking at other girls to kind of gauge what I should wear sometimes.

6. Are there times when you do set aside an outfit? What are the certain event/time
When I get new clothes for example I will set them out and wear them the next day. I think maybe that is the excitement of just getting something new to wear and having your peers see it, and maybe wanting to impress them at the same time? I’m not sure

1. Before you go to work or school, do you set out your outfit before hand?
No.

2. What would you identify your style as?
90s to early 2000s.

3. Can you identify a particular style that your friends wear? (specific items, brands, etc)
I think my friends at school wear a lot of Forever 21 and Lulu Lemons, whereas my friends outside of school and from my neighborhood wear more H&M and crop tops. I think that maybe that has to do with social class and wealth: a lot of the kids around here can afford really really nice clothes whereas public school kids have to sort of thing about how long something is going to last.

4. Have you ever felt pressured to adopt a certain style, conform to a type of dress, or buy a certain brand because someone in your social did so?
Heck no! I would actually not buy something that I wanted to get because someone else was wearing it. Maybe that’s because I’m competitive or that I just don’t like copying someone elses outfit.

5. Are there times when you do set aside an outfit? What are the certain event/time
Yes. Concerts and proms/dresses. Concerts firstly because I feel like when I go to a concert there is more freedom to wear whatever I want, so I’ll find clothing that is really fly and its the only time where I get to wear a black dress and mascara. Also I dress up for concerts because for girls especially its like this unspoken competition against each other and for the boys too. You’ll judge the outfit of some random girl walking around, or try to catch a guy. For dances I also set out my clothes because I want to look nice and having something that is comfortable when I dance.

6. How has your style evolved over time?
I think I’ve gone from having an okay outfit and maybe some messed up shoes, to generally having a good wardrobe. I do think I’m more conscious about what I wear and I’ve tried a lot harder to make my own style. Also if I’m having a good hair day, then I’ll have a good outfit too.