Fashion is an essential part of my identity; it’s partly rooted in my personality, but it truly stems from a cultural expectation of dress I learned while growing up in an African family living in Boston.
My earliest memories are of my mother dressing me for school every morning. I was like her doll, and she adored putting me in sweater vests with a khaki-shorts-high-socks combo. I never fought back because I secretly liked her stylistic choices.
Once I finally started dressing myself—at an embarrassingly late age—I had a subconscious standard of what style was acceptable, largely based on the cultural norms I grew up with. This standard was particularly high due to my mother and stylish sisters. Leaving the house in certain clothing simply wouldn’t be tolerated.
Even though I’m at Bowdoin and out of the judgmental glare of my mom and sisters, I still carry those expectations in my head—and I’m so glad I do.
Here, the Bowdoin “uniform” is clear: Chacos, Patagonia quarter zips and the coveted Canada Goose jacket. It is easy to blend in here if you choose to. But there is also a group of students curating a unique sense of style. These students are often women of color who continuously turn out looks; they refuse to conform to typical Bowdoin attire and turn hallways into runways and sidewalks into catwalks.
To the small number of students who have taken the liberty to curate your own image, I commend you for not letting the Bowdoin uniform become your uniform. After all, it is easier to blend in than stand out. And to all the students who are afraid to wear that romper or those bell-bottoms or are scared to stand out period: don’t be.
I wish that I could go back to 13-year-old me and smack him on the side of the head for caring about what other kids thought. Being able to express yourself is so satisfying and something I appreciate every day.
Last year I felt external pressure from others, and at some points an internal pressure, to assimilate which I am glad I ignored. The institutional pressure to assimilate is palpable here at Bowdoin, but the radical—and more liberating—choice is to be yourself.
So if the Bowdoin uniform is for you, then go ahead and live your truth! It’s not for me, and it never will be. And I’m glad I realized this.
Ayub Tahlil is a member of the Class of 2022.