There’s something about winter that makes me want to look boring. Spending these first dreary months in New York, amongst masses of quick-moving black swathes, I want to sink into the sleet and the rain and buy a new pair of jeans at Madewell and cords at the Gap. I’m buying more than the cords, though. I’m buying the Gap’s new advertising slogan: Be Normal. There is something freeing about throwing yourself into plain. It really astounds me how differently I want to look depending on what cocktail of attitude, season, location and company swirl around me.
But looking plain isn’t just the result of being in New York and the exhilaration of moving as part of a massive unresponsive crowd. It is practical. I want to be warm! Layers of wool sweaters and multiple puffer jackets keep out the air. Of course, after a lifetime of wearing tights through the winter, I am discovering that jeans aren’t actually much warmer. But more cause for my mother’s long quilted synthetic coat to protect my thighs. And a sweater with jeans is the perfect pairing. Look at Lorelei Gilmore! A new style icon for a new me.
I’m trying to envision how my new look will translate to Swarthmore’s campus. Sure, we don’t have 1,500 crazy dressers on Swat’s campus. But at a school so small, everything is considered a little more individually. There isn’t really a seething mass to slip into. There aren’t categories of normal. Dressing boring, which in New York feels like a definitive change, an exciting new venture, may at school just feel like I decided to wear jeans and a blue sweater – a single blip, a single decision, which doesn’t register as meaningful because it is just one decision, unconnected to any greater pattern.
At Swarthmore, we are such an isolated and fractured little model of the outside world. We respond to its demands and its changes in our own unique ways, or not at all. Fashion is constantly changing, subject to trends and fancies that feel irrelevant in Swarthmore, PA. The trend of being normcore, not normcore as it has been adopted by the media as a sly irony, but of being normcore as defined in the fascinating K-Hole report “Youth Mode” – as just liking whatever random things you like, plain jeans but that long BK-girl cardigan and heeled sneakers too, pop top 40 but also Björk and that indie band your ex played in too – that trend doesn’t really register at Swarthmore. Everyone, whether it is me first semester in my little blue doll dress or this semester in my black cords, is a special snowflake. We are out of context. We are individual. And whatever individual choices we make get to be normal for us, even as they are individual and creative contributions to our community.
To dress normal at Swarthmore will truly be a departure. Because all it will be is letting go of my own vision of myself in the mirror. It may not register as a change to anyone else, and it will not have the higher purpose of trend and culture on a mass scale that we encounter in giant cities like New York.
But that, after all, has always been the purpose of this column: to look at fashion as it exists on Swarthmore’s campus, to attach clothing to personal stories and decisions and opinions, not to trends or runways. What is interesting about fashion here, in our convoluted, distorted world, is different from what is interesting about fashion in New York. It reveals so many poignant things that perhaps it couldn’t if we were subject to the same influences as the outside world. So here’s to a new year of new clothes and a new semester of fashion at Swat.
In celebration of winter 2.0 this year, as it occurs at Swat and not at our homes across the globe, here is a list of the things I am excited to wear in the coming months: two pairs of blue jeans, one pair of black pants, one pair of cords, five to six long sleeved sweater-shirts, three to four long sleeved over-layer sweaters, and possibly a pair of coveted UGG boots. Also, some hoops.