So, it’s the first day of classes, the start of a new year, in (for me) a new world. I, who attended a very small liberal arts university in rural Missouri, USA and majored in literature and equine science, was very excited to spend the year out of my professional attire and back in student dress. My experience at my undergraduate uni was that your first week of classes, you wore jeans and a nice top, but by the second week trackies and hoodies were practically mandatory. Attending lectures and seminars meant that I could revert back from my brief foray into adulthood and settle comfortably in pyjamas again. So, on my first day of graduate school, I showed up in jeans, an ironic t-shirt and trainers pleased with myself and fully expecting to fit right in.
It came as a bit of a shock to me when person after person came filing into the room wearing stylish skirts and cute dresses there were shirts and even blazers, nice little flats and shoes, hair neatly done and in full make-up. I simply did not understand. We are students. Students don’t try. What was this? Was it just that I had chosen to go to school in the UK and this was how they dressed? But there were several other Americans on my course and they blended seamlessly with the others. Was it that it was grad school so now all the stakes were higher and you had to dress nicer too? Was it that I had chosen to pursue a course in humanities, where my feet would be firmly rooted in the library for hours on end, rather than the barn? Or had I simply missed a memo that said “welcome to adulthood, we expect real clothes here”? In the midst of these questions, chasing each other around my mind, I managed to come up with a very reasonable argument to calm myself. It was the first day. Everybody tries a little harder on the first day. Nothing to worry about. I was sure to see hoodies in a week or so. But I was sweating it. I had packed for a year of casual. I’d brought two pairs of nice trousers and three nice tops that could reasonably be considered professional. Everything else was the epitome of liberal-arts-student dress. I had a bank account that was fully funded by the US government and was more than aware that I needed to skimp to feed myself so a shopping spree simply wasn’t an option.
I clung to my theory of first-day-fancy as though it was my lifeline. By week three, that lifeline was cut. Everybody continued to show up to lectures dressed like they were headed to work, so I decided to embrace my fate. I was ‘that girl’. My jeans weren’t skinny, my hair was in a pony tail, I wore my trainers and my ironic t-shirts and you know what? Nobody said anything. My seminar teachers took my contributions seriously, I did well on my term papers, I even got a work experience position at a publisher’s. I finished my dissertation, in fact, I might even graduate, though I still don’t have my dissertation marks, but that’s a huffy rant for another time. Shockingly, the world did not stop turning due to my apparently poor sense of academic fashion. It didn’t ostracise me or make me fail, in fact, I’m not sure anybody even noticed. All that anxiety for nothing. Welcome to life.