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UCSB Fashion: Another East vs West Coast Debate

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCSB chapter.

There have always been an endless number of comparisons drawn between the East Coast and the West Coast. I was born and raised in Pennsylvania and so, coming to UCSB and spending a significant amount of time on the West Coast for the first time, it has been interesting to see these dissimilarities firsthand. The number of cultural differences between the two coasts are countless, but probably the biggest that I’ve noticed is how people dress on the East Coast versus the West Coast.

To clarify, both the East Coast and the West Coast are huge. It’s easy to make sweeping generalizations but, in actuality, each coast is incredibly diverse. Massachusetts and Georgia epitomize two very different vibes. Likewise, to lump together Seattle and San Diego means to ignore the distinctions that make these areas unique. So, when I am talking about “the East Coast,” I am really just referring to where I have always lived: the Mid Atlantic. And when I say “the West Coast,” I am talking about Southern California.

I used to go to school in Baltimore, Maryland. Walking around campus, students blurred together. The norm was to wear leggings or joggers and a sweatshirt, usually with a bulky jacket during the winter months to class. As we traveled, we blended into a swarm of black and gray. “Dressing nice” to go to class was a rarity and merely translated to jeans and a nice shirt.

My school wasn’t an anomaly. Touring colleges and visiting friends at other universities in different parts of the East Coast, there is an unofficial school uniform that dominates. Everybody wears some variation of North Face jacket, yoga pants, sweatpants, and a hoodie. Even outside of academic spaces, such as walking around my hometown or going into cities like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and D.C., this is how people dress to go out and about.

All of this is to say that, from my experience, on the East Coast fashion doesn’t take precedence. Selecting something to wear in the morning is usually a straightforward task. The objective is to be comfortable. Getting creative with an outfit usually requires some sort of excuse, a special outing that necessitates spicing things up. Dressing up for no reason is uncommon, a decision that is likely to elicit confused looks.

UCSB is a completely different story. Walking to class and seeing how people dress to go to lecture during my first few weeks here was truly shocking. I felt out of place, and dressed excessively casual. I remember immediately trying to adjust and realizing that the ratio of my wardrobe was more heavily skewed towards loungewear and “athleisure” than anything that would be considered stylish.

It wasn’t just the fact that students dressed presentably for class that baffled me. It was the caliber of outfits as well. And the type of fashion that people gravitate towards. The boldness and ingenuity of people’s outfits was completely foreign to me. I soon learned that, here, putting together an outfit doesn’t just mean looking nice. . . it means getting inventive. It means prints, layering, accessorizing. And no article of clothing is off limits. Overalls, long dresses, funky boots, audacious hats, and eccentric jewelry, amongst others, are all fair game. 

When the occasion called for it, dressing up on the East Coast was much more simple. Most people gravitate towards a clean, uncluttered, classic look. Blacks, whites, and neutrals are preferred over colors and patterns. Trench coats, puffer jackets, sweaters, and blazers are very popular. The aesthetic that most people adopt is chic, sleek, and polished. There are stricter guidelines that dictate how people put together an outfit, guidelines that, in my opinion, are less prominent on the West Coast and at UCSB.

I think that a huge reason for this difference is obviously climate. The mild climate and seasonless of the West Coast allows for flexibility and provides an opportunity for experimentation. However, on the East Coast weather is a factor that hugely hinders what a person can wear.  It gets cold during the winter and, often, warmth is prioritized over looking cute. Fashion on the East Coast must be a bit more calculated in order to blend functionality with style.

I would argue that this openness that the climate allows for on the West Coast contributes to a cultural open mindedness about fashion. For me, on the East Coast, styling an outfit was much more formulaic. The goal wasn’t to stand out and look different but, rather, to pull off a certain look that everybody else appreciates. Even in the warmer months, when the climate is more hospitable to originality, people on the East Coast still aren’t as willing to go all out. I feel like there is a freedom to wear whatever on the West Coast that doesn’t quite transfer to the East Coast.

Of course, all of this is based on my personal experience. I have read other articles that actually come to the opposite conclusion, where people who moved from the West Coast to the East Coast felt pressure to quickly adjust to a more fashion-forward environment. I am sure that if I were to spend more time in New York City, which is widely heralded as the fashion capital of the East Coast, my assessment would slightly change. Like all other derivations of the East Coast-West Coast debate, the verdict is very subjective.

Hi! My name is Caitlin and I am a fourth year sociology and spanish major at UCSB. I enjoy listening to music, making coffee, traveling, and writing :)