Lovely reader Bonnie – who is a university student – sent this question via e-mail:
While I don’t dress in a particularly fancy way (I normally wear a collared shirt with dark wash jeans and riding boots, or a tailored shirtdress with a cardigan and a pair of sandals), the things I wear look out of place amongst the hoodies and ugg boots worn by my peers. Most of the time I even look smarter than my lecturers! In the faculties I am in (I am doing a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science) people seem to consistently dress down.
How do you balance your need to dress nicely when other people don’t? (I’m sure you must have experienced this before!) And do you have any suggestions as to how to balance your desire to dress smartly when other factors demand you dress in a more comfortable way?
I think a lot depends on your priorities. If you dress quite differently from your peers, that may feel uncomfortable at times. But is your priority to feel less alienated from your fellow students, or is it to remain true to your own style? Neither answer is right or wrong, and there is a happy medium to be reached, of course! But it might be emotionally helpful to ruminate on that question to see if you lean one way or the other. Understanding your priorities can help you act upon them with more commitment and confidence.
Other potentially pertinent questions:
- Do you feel like you are avoided or ostracized for looking different? Or could it be that people respect your style and maybe even envy your commitment to dressing smartly but don’t know how to broach the subject? Could you make an effort to strike up conversations with other people who seem to dress a bit more formally to connect with like minds?
- How about investigating softer versions of tailored pieces? Instead of twill or wool blazers, find knit or sweater versions. Seek out jersey versions of button-front shirts and shirt dresses, too. And accessorize with scarves as much as you can; Scarves are ideal for softening otherwise tailored ensembles.
- How do your close friends react? Do any of them dress similarly? Can you talk to a select few people about why dressing up is important to you, so that you have some supporters and feel less isolated?
- How about creating some casual looks that still fit within a dressier aesthetic? Graphic tees, jersey dresses, flat boots, scarves, and leather jackets all mix beautifully into smart looks but also have casual crossover cachet. Maybe try incorporating a few of those pieces into your weekly wardrobe.
- If you simply don’t feel that plowing ahead with your current, smart-casual style will work, how about mixing it up a bit more? Continue to gather pieces that contribute to your look, but wear them in small enough amounts so it feels like your little secret. Or dress down Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and dress up Tuesday and Thursday.
Dressing for yourself in the face of resistance can feel frustrating and lonely since style is incredibly social. Especially in college! Much of what I’m suggesting here is derived from this older post, which also has a few more tips for honing your style in challenging environments or when faced with potential roadblocks. And although the advice in this post is tailored to college-student Bonnie, it could just as easily apply to someone in an office, teaching, or other group working/living situation.
Images courtesy Boden
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