It’s Friday, and a Princeton freshman is preparing to brave Charter. It’s cold, but the basement will feel like a sauna. She doesn’t see herself doing laundry any time soon, so she doesn’t want to wear something she isn’t comfortable letting soak in sweat and other liquids for the foreseeable future. She decides on boyfriend jeans, an oversized tee shirt, and Converse.
Across campus, another Princeton freshman is also getting ready. She finds a mini skirt she hasn’t worn in a while, and remembers that her roommate has the perfect crop top she’d promised to lend before the weather dropped below freezing. She adds a choker to round the outfit out.
Both make it to the Street, turn to their friends, and ask, “Am I dressed ok?”
The judgment Princeton women, particularly freshmen, face for their clothing decisions when going to the Street is pervasive. Toyosi Oluwole ’21 explained that when getting ready, she thinks, “People will be there — what will other people wear?” She said, “With guys you feel like you should dress a certain way to impress this person, while with girls you want to look cute together. You don’t want to be the one who looks bummy."
Gendered expectations about sex appeal, peer pressure, and false feelings of “feminist superiority” create an impossible balancing act. We should all skip the learning curve — I’m wearing whatever I want to the Street, and you should too.
There are some who feel pressured to dress a certain way when they go out because they believe that it’s necessary in order to be perceived as attractive, desirable, or “worthy.” The social culture at Princeton that comes with hookups and passes contributes to this trend. But there is also a dynamic of girls policing or criticizing each other for how they choose to navigate questions of dress, sexuality, and comfort on the Street. Making assumptions about someone on the Street because they chose to dress a certain way doesn’t make you a more empowered feminist. Walking down Prospect should not be an exercise in insecure comparison to others. While I am aware that not every girl identifies as a feminist, empathy from shared experience should indicate that this behavior is not okay.
If "Not Anymore" (the education modules first-years complete about sexual misconduct) is to be believed, this campus has moved past blaming girls for sexual assault because of how they dressed. So why can’t we take the next step and let girls have complete ownership of their clothing decisions without considering those choices indicative of some personality flaw? While the fashion industry has patriarchal facets, many women have reappropriaated style as a means of empowerment. That reclamation should extend to what Princeton women wear to the Street.
Passing judgment on what girls choose to wear when going out has no place in the 21st century. There is no one way to dress like a feminist. Prescribing that you own your sexuality is no more liberated than recommending that you keep your body covered up. Prescriptive feminism is contrary to the idea of equality of choice, as all decisions made autonomously should be considered valid (as long as they don’t harm or belittle anyone else).
When I say I am wearing whatever I want to the Street, I truly mean whatever. Not letting external standards or judgments affect decisions opens up an entire world of options (or an entire closet). I don’t even buy into the “just be comfortable!” compromise of going-out wear. What if I don’t want to be comfortable one night? I am very aware that sneakers are more comfortable than heels, but sometimes I would rather feel tall and leggy than be able to walk comfortably the next morning, and that’s my prerogative. Dressing for you sometimes means wearing a tight shirt because you are going to see the boy you like — sue me. Sometimes it means wearing pajama pants to Sunday brunch — it’s all about that #selfcare.
As long as you don’t feel like you are compromising your beliefs or desires because somebody besides you expects it, wear what you want. At the end of the night, we are all sweaty messes after about ten minutes anyway.
Madeleine Marr is a freshman from Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.