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Why Do We Dress Differently at Uni?

Before I came to uni, I thought student life involved a lot of telly and loungewear, not a lot of caring and a lot of statement “I don’t care” outfits to show it. I was mistaken on all parts.

People definitely don’t ‘rock up’ to class in tracksuits or, god forbid, a onesie. Generally, people care about what they wear, and what’s more, people have style – I found it exhausting. I remember seeing people coming to breakfast in skirts and blouses and realising what I had entered into. Sure, there was the odd dressing gown at the weekend that caused a stir, but just the fact that it caused a stir worried me.

I was a very simplistic if-it-fits-and-doesn’t-make-people-look-then-wear-it, and too often a lets-not-break-the-bank-if-there’s-a-knock-off-version-at-Sainsburys girl. But hanging round with people who put time into their appearance made me consider what my appearance said about me.  

Then, the devious ‘coincidence’ of Topshop mid-season sales and my student loan coming through (freshers, beware) meant that I joined the hype: I got the feeling of having money and knowing that you decide what you want to spend it on, and then spending it on a luxury rather than a necessity, but feeling no guilt because there are no consequences. I got a pair of dungarees, not that classy I know, but still quite out there for me. (I got a few ‘90s influenced tops too.)

Before first term was out, I was spending money on more make-up than ever before, shaving my legs even through winter, and picking clothes from my wardrobe that I had only just washed, because they made me excited about what I was wearing, rather than throwing on whatever I hadn’t worn for the longest so that people wouldn’t think I was an outfit repeater.

It was wearing new trendy clothes that made me realise that it wasn’t one particular look that I had been missing, but the ability to choose a look, no matter what it was. It wasn’t a resemblance of a shop window mannequin (in taste, not measurements!) that gave me satisfaction, it was the spending as much money as I wanted on pieces of clothing of average quality, without being told by my mum that it was a waste of money. I discovered that I really like deciding what I look like based on how I feel, not other people’s opinions.

So now I am unafraid of drawing on eyebrows, even though mine are dark enough, and buying clothes from the guys section if I want to, or wearing jogging bottoms for their comfort, not practicality, or wearing eye shadow on a Tuesday without a “Ooh, who are you going out to meet?” quip from my brother. I’ve toned down my spending and relaxed the need for a new-on-the-high-street look. I am all about feeling good in myself, not impressing other people.

At home my choice of wear is more conventional than at uni for the sake of avoiding sassy comments, but when they come, I accept them without apologising or letting them dictate how I dress. Uni is the place for thousands of students to experience independence, many for the first time, and expressing that through what they wear. I knew I’d learn some life lessons along with studying in Durham, but I thought they would be responsibility-stricken and scary; this one was actually just fun.

2nd year Modern Languages student
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