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Dressed to impress at Ride the Tide

in Campus Journal/Columns/Hi! Fashion by
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Photo by Ian Holloway

Ride the Tide is coming, and the year is going. Walking to brunch with my roommate Sunday morning, I watched her look down at the sports shorts and flannel she was wearing and sigh, “I get proportionally more frat-bro as the weather gets warmer.” But wearing the minimal clothing necessary for lounging in the grass with your friends as spring swoops in is not the only sartorial object for certain Swarthmore spring visitors.

Ride the Tide, for me, was a moment in time where I would have the opportunity to scope out future friends, future lifestyles, and future rates of happiness. I applied early and was already committed, so the visit wasn’t an opportunity to judge the school on its merits in comparison to other schools; it was an opportunity for a fatalistic assessment of my unchangeable future.

Obviously, I wanted to look good. If this was my first opportunity to scope out and potentially make friends, I needed to present myself truly and positively — I needed to look cool. This was admittedly the caption to an Instagram I posted during orientation, not RTT, but the sentiment is right: “Ideally, people see this caption and think I’m cool and funny.” It applied during RTT more to my outfits than to my Instagram, since no Swattie would have seen my Instagram at that point.

So I picked my outfits very carefully: I went through myriad options with my brother until we found the perfect look, not so different in its goals from my first-day-of-high-school outfit. It aimed to be cool, yet approachable. Interesting, but not strange enough to repel potential friends. In the end, what I chose probably was pretty underwhelming — I don’t remember it. I was trying to achieve too many things, or rather, to please too many people.

These days, I mostly try to please myself. Making new friends feels at times like an impossibly distant goal. If it happens, it’s not going to happen because I look approachable or “not too strange.” So for me, that initial RTT outfit is definitely “then,” or at least the attitude, fears, and suppositions that lay behind it.

But those attitudes, fears, and suppositions were definitely particularly mine. I spoke to a few other Swatties about their RTT or DiscoSwat outfits, and got a variety of responses about the thought processes happening “then” and their relationships to what is happening now.

Emma Madarasz ’15 explained, “I specifically wanted people to know I was gay. I dressed the way I thought queer people dressed.” For her, that was a white t-shirt, dark jeans, aviators and a beanie. Coming from a conservative girls’ school where performance of queer identity wasn’t an easy option, Madarasz was determined to begin her time here clear about who she was and wanted to be. Because, for her, RTT was the beginning of this new era of actually self-presenting in a way that felt open and honest, she says that her style hasn’t changed much from that first special reveal at RTT: the items that composed the outfit “then,” at the time new and imitative of perceived queer identity, have now become her staples.

Jacob Oet ’17 was also active and thoughtful about that first outfit. He actually went online and designed the perfect t-shirt depicting and quoting his favorite poet, Rimbaud. He wanted to demonstrate that his favorite poet was Rimbaud, but the fascinating part of that desire is the way he was playing with (while still participating in) the “let me present my identity” attitude around events like RTT that I certainly went in with: “I liked that this shirt was a very conspicuous projection of my identity, but I was also using someone else’s work to construct that identity — and the quote on it actually says ‘I is the other.’” On several levels, he was pointing out the constructed nature of his presentation of “himself” and playing with the way we create “authenticity.”

I asked him if this was a comment on the way everyone tries to manipulate their self-presentation at a time like RTT, and he said it wasn’t — it was personal, about him and not about the peers he was going to meet. While it certainly works the other way, as social commentary, the fact that he, like the rest of us, went into the event trying to make his appearance a presentation of personal thought and belief is an interesting commentary on where he, and all of us, were “then.” He commented that the T-shirt shenanigan was very representative of how he was thinking about his identity “at the time.” From the smile that accompanied the statement, I can presume that for Oet, too, “now” is different from “then.”

Not everyone comes in with elaborate plans for their outfits at RTT, however. Gretchen Trupp ’18 shrugged when I asked her about her first outfit here — “travel clothes that I could mix and match, I guess,” she answered. So I can’t claim that we all are furiously constructing, successfully or futilely or in the wrong direction, our identities at RTT. Then isn’t always different from now, or the beginning of now. So the distinction between our RTT and current outfits isn’t necessarily that different, or some specific amount or type of different.

Actually, maybe I slipped up: thinking of all the clothes in my dorm-room drawers, I’m not quite sure how different they really are from my mystery RTT outfit. Who knows, maybe it’s what I’m wearing today. Maybe, after all, history just repeats itself. What did I read lately, that the 70s are back?

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