A nervous incoming fresher in early October, I can remember trawling through Oxford student articles desperate for fashion do’s and don’ts before I packed the world’s largest suitcase and unpacked it into my college’s smallest room. The conclusion I reached was vague and unsatisfying. Utterly dismayed, I read page after page telling me that the standard look was a hoodie and jeans, or God forbid, trackies, before glancing at my growing pile of ‘outfits’ in mild panic. “Stash” was a foreign and equally distressing concept, because “what if I don’t suit a puffer jacket?!”. When you put something on in the morning, (or the afternoon if it’s the Friday after a particularly heavy Bridge), you want it to say the right thing about you. My wardrobe at the time screamed “casual sixth form dress code and the odd vintage shop success” but I didn’t know what it would say to the potential friends and flirts I’d be meeting. Statistically, your impression of someone is gained within the first 10 seconds of meeting them – so if you don’t speak fast, your outfit will do the talking for you, or so I feared! In fact, I think we all had a fresher fashion panic in first term – trying not to look like we were trying as hard as we almost certainly were. Managing your wardrobe can feel especially tricky in a place where often what you wear can associate you with a certain group. It may be literal, like a puffer jacket with your college crest on it, or it could be being told you dress like an English student… whatever that means? Arriving in Oxford, I was scared the way I dressed would decide my friends for me.
Let’s be honest, aside from the balls, Oxford gives us no real reason to make an effort. Even clubbing I’ve neglected my bodysuits and glittery skirts for a simple crop top and black jeans. But when it comes to your everyday wardrobe, there are two basic tribes. There’s those who can happily go about their day in their most casual clothing and those (like me) who like dressing up too much. (Though I am now firmly wedded to my puffer jacket.) I mean, I love to be comfy (you’re reading an article written by a girl who brings slippers to a house party) but I personally never feel further from comfortable than when I leave my room in loose-fitting, oversized clothes.
I actually think that those of you out there who do are incredibly confident individuals with a ‘don’t give a’ attitude of your own, even if it’s something you’ve never really thought about. Especially if it’s something you’ve never thought about – because God knows we’ve got bigger worries here than how we dress for the library and you aren’t wasting precious moments of your life on ‘what to wear’. You don’t need your wardrobe to talk for you and you probably also look really great in a hoodie. But when I’ve woken up late for a Saturday morning brunch, I have to really psych myself up to leave my room in trackies, because while I don’t want to miss the hash browns, it’s still easy to feel vulnerable without my armour on.
The second Oxford fashion tribe is the one I find myself in. I’ve always loved dressing up. Imelda Marquez has nothing on my growing collection of quirky soles and I’ve quickly gained a reputation here for always being seen in heels. Partly this has come from an attempt to overcome my own insecurities, because making an effort with my appearance has been my armour when social situations have been less than straightforward, and it’s a hard habit to shake. When you’re wearing a bold outfit that requires a bit of attitude, you’ve got no choice but to hold your head up a little higher. What makes me comfortable in the clothes I choose to wear is that they are ‘me’. Vanity aside, because I’ll be the first to admit that vanity is involved in my decision not to dress down, I’m at my least productive when I’m in my comfies. Putting on something that makes me feel good is also what puts me in the right mindset to work, whether I’m sitting at my own desk or braving the many eyes of the Bodleian. Feeling good about myself isn’t just something that comes from what I’m wearing, but in a cute skirt and top I feel far more ready to face the day. Not to mention if I’m wearing anything vaguely pyjama-like my desire to nap increases tenfold.
‘Enclothed cognition’ is the idea that wearing specific articles of clothing, especially if they have a certain meaning to you, can influence your psychological state. I associate my trackies and oversized hoodies with a night in, Netflix and maybe a face mask, which is a very different vibe to the one I need in the College library the week of Collections. But if you’re used to being cosy when you work, you can resist your basic urges to nap and you’ve got the banging self-confidence to rock any look, however casual, then by all means take to the streets in those trackies. I wish I had the confidence to!
But really, wear whatever you want to. Whether you give a monkey’s about your appearance or not, there’s a deeper relevance to what we wear that shouldn’t be ignored. An outfit you’re completely comfortable in gives you confidence and the ability to work productively. Whether you wear trackies and trainers or a cute dress and heels, we should all wear what we wear for the same basic reason; it makes us happy. People may assume things about you from what you wear (I’m actually a History student?) but there’s only so much a funky skirt or even a really loud jumper can say about you. Ultimately, people are going to like you for who you are, not who you wear.