As spring fashion week draws closer, I have deeply reflected on our own Brunswick runway. Although there is a fundamental difference between fashion and style, Bowdoin’s culture around both is worth exploring. The collective style at Bowdoin is predictable; only a handful of students maintain a creative and authentic style. The greater student body has adopted a monolithic uniform, which is partially due to the weather and partially the cultural and economic background of the majority. But how do you fit into this uniform if you’re not a part of said majority?
The Bowdoin uniform is modified across social spaces on campus. To achieve the Bowdoin outfit, the most essential accessory is a Canada Goose coat, or any piece of clothing piece from a reputable and expensive brand. Just like the larger fashion world, uniform style is heavily influenced by money and brands. In past years, there have been many discussions about socioeconomic status and clothing on campus. These programs received pushback by students who felt challenged and criticized for their socioeconomic status. I think these students missed the point: there is a direct correlation between style and money because of the nature of our capitalist society.
Nonetheless, it is naive to use style as a sole indicator of wealth. Style can serve as a reflection of class. It also blurs the lines of class. The access to certain (usually high-end) brands communicates some information about one’s financial background. However, second-hand shopping or extreme bargaining make these brands accessible to almost everyone and any individual is able to exist outside their socioeconomic brackets. More interestingly, some students have also used their personal style in a way that doesn’t reflect their socioeconomic status or even conceals their wealth. Style is fluid because it is a physical representation of intention, creativity, mood or personality.
However, many people of color have constructed their personal styles independent of this uniform. For many students of color, their personal style is not a reflection of class. Although the clothing pieces worn could be brand name, the curation of new and unique outfits challenges the Bowdoin uniform. I believe it is necessary to have a self-curated style as a person of color for many reasons—one being so white students can actually get our names right. But seriously, a confident personal style expresses how unique fashion can be.
Women of color at Bowdoin are known to have unique styles on campus. Myself and other women of color receive compliments like “you’re so put together” or “you’re always dressed up.” Although there are more intentional ways to give compliments, there is some truth to it. Before I came to Bowdoin, I had never described my style as “put together” or particularly noteworthy. In my Nigerian household, there is no other option. There is a cultural baseline for presentable clothing that does not fall within Bowdoin norms. For me, presenting myself in a manner that juxtaposes the presumed notions of my black feminine body is necessary. It is inherently radical to curate a style that accurately conveys what you want perceived about your black body.
The honest truth is our bodies have made a statement before we speak. Stereotypes and assumptions about our skin taint how we are perceived. The Bowdoin uniform proposes conformity. As a woman of color, conformity is not my objective. Personal style is the most accessible way to have agency over the expression of our already radical bodies.