Arriving to Princeton just one month ago, I never thought I would be wearing a pair of light pink, three-inch wedges. In high school, I would wear a t-shirt, jeans and Vans every day. I had dresses and sandals and dangly earrings, but they never left my closet. It would have felt weird to wear them at school where people were used to seeing me in such plain clothing. I had given up on trying to look cute by my junior year, mostly because I knew everyone at my school and didn’t care what they thought about me, but also because I didn’t have the confidence.
Flash-forward to Lawnparties, when I wore those light pink wedges and a floral dress from Ann Taylor. I still don’t care what other people think about what I wear, yet Princeton has managed to change the way I think about dressing.
In the chaos of frosh week and the start of classes, I almost didn’t notice at first, but I’ve realized that I am approaching the way I dress differently and am even dressing “preppy” (although, I often struggle to define that term, as its definition played out more broadly in real life can easily intersect with “edgy” or even “hipster”). There has been a surprising shift from the t-shirts and jeans of my high school days. Even more notable is how easily the shift occurred.
In the past, I was worried that if I dressed too preppy, others would think I was trying too hard to present myself in a certain way. And even worse, I was afraid of taking advantage of a style and attitude that I had told myself were not mine to enjoy. Similar to other teenage girls, I had developed many negative and overly self-conscious ideas about myself and my body. I was afraid that if my outfit was too cute it wouldn’t match me.
Coming into Princeton, I worried about having to deal with this same dilemma. I imagined it would be somehow obvious who was allowed to dress “preppy” here, and who was not. I feared I would be categorized, pushed into dressing like an average-looking girl in a hoodie and Converse, or else feel like an imposter in a pretty dress. At home in August I anxiously weighed the two images in my mind and decided to pack both my simple tops and my patterned dresses. On the plane I prepared myself for both options, and awaited the moment when something would click and I would know for sure exactly what I would be comfortable wearing.
After being on campus for five minutes I realized that my ideas were completely misplaced and irrelevant. Princeton is not perfect. There are many things that can be fixed. But the one thing that I realized quickly is that there is no question of “can she, or can’t she?” regarding dressing “preppy.” No one has a monopoly on “preppy” at Princeton, and that is extremely liberating. Everyone on campus has just as much of a right to dress “preppy” as any other person. If anything, I feel as though attending Princeton gives all students a uniquely “Princetonesque” liberty to dress “preppy,” or any other way that makes them feel confident. By definition, a “prep” is someone who attends an expensive school, especially a school such as Princeton.
Here you don’t wear a certain outfit because you feel forced into it. You put on what you put on because it is fun for you to see yourself that way. In my first few days I saw every kind of person dressing “preppy” and looking utterly amazing. I saw everyone having a great time and I decided to join in. I immediately shed my negative feelings and began dressing in a way that felt both natural and unnatural at the same time, because I was consciously being brave and taking little risks.
Before, I had tentatively packed my dresses and my sandals and my dangly earrings. I ended up wearing many of them within the first week. My light pink wedges were something strange and new and made me feel a certain way that I previously would have described as “worried.” Now I call that feeling excited.
College has so far been an inspiring and unexpected freedom for me. I feel as though I can be myself, or even better — not be myself at all (at least not the girl my high school friends would recognize). If I want to look like a quintessential east coast “prep” I totally can, and it will be perfect because this is freaking Princeton. And if I want to be a hippy princess and pin flowers in my long, thick hair that will be perfect too. Even jeans and Vans are acceptable, too.
I’ve realized that it is so easy to wear what you want here and have fun doing it. So far I have loved seeing the clothes my classmates have put on and I have noticed when you guys were having fun. Thank you for that.
Claire Thornton is a freshman from San Antonio, Texas. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.