In my previous column, I reflected on the reasons why I was able to minimize the traditionally difficult components of the transition to college: separation from home, new standards of academic rigor, and dormitory life. Now, I realize that there is one aspect of my life that I made a concerted effort to change dramatically in college, an effort that failed spectacularly. This aspect was fashion.
While enjoying wearing stylish outfits for a short amount of time, my time at Princeton so far has shown me my lack of motivation to continue caring about clothing.
My choice of outfit in high school was rather simple — I would select one of several long-sleeve T-shirts, identical except for color, at random from a drawer. Then, I would add a sweater, also chosen at random from a drawer, and lastly a random pair of pants, all of which were again identical except for color.
Preferring the pliable texture of old, worn-down clothes to the stiffness and unpredictable material of new ones, I refused to wear anything besides the tattered, holey, and ever-shortening clothes already longtime residents of my closet.
In hindsight, I can safely assume that no one found my selections of clothes particularly appealing besides myself. However, two of my cousins were certainly more appalled by my lack of fashion sense than anyone else I knew. Accepting that I would not change my pattern of dress until at least after high school, they struck a (relatively one-sided) bargain with me: if I was accepted into an Ivy League university, then they would take me shopping and expand my limited wardrobe. Surely the most prestigious American colleges, they assumed, would not tolerate such a thoughtless appearance!
You may predict what happened at this point. As it turns out, I was accepted into this Ivy League university and capitulated to let my cousins take me shopping.
After purchasing a volume of clothes three times larger than my entire stock beforehand, I was finally ready for college. Now, my pants no longer varied simply in color, but also fit and material. My shirts were of multiple different materials as well now, as were my sweaters.
Yet my new assortment of clothes immediately overwhelmed me. I had never realized how complicated the science of matching clothes could ever become! Not only did clothes match according to an arcane system of conventions far beyond my ability to understand, but the conventions would vary with time. Blue jeans, my cousins espoused, match with everything, although they did not ten years earlier, for example.
I experienced several days of assuming that I was finally dressed for high society before my expectations suddenly dissolved after a remark along the lines of: “You can’t wear a green sweater with red pants! That doesn’t go at all.” How was I to discover the apparently infinite plethora of regulations concerning appropriate wear?
As a lover of simple rules rather than complex judgments, I quickly became disillusioned over the pseudo- random snippets of fashion advice (or rather, constructive fashion criticism) that I received. Not even my cousins were willing to teach me the system of which clothes worked well together — they themselves would have been unable to articulate it, for they simply intuit it.
Furthermore, I discovered that attempting to decrypt this code of fashion was not necessary.
A pleasant surprise I found not long after arriving on campus was that I discovered Princeton to be quite diverse in terms of fashion. While some students prefer dressing elaborately, others dress simply. The alleged snobbishness of our elite university seems not to extend to clothing.
A rather entertaining reading from my freshman seminar further justified my frustration on choosing outfits. “Suppose it takes only two minutes each day to decide how to dress,” Claremont Graduate School psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi postulated in his treatise “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention.” “That adds up to 730 minutes, or 12 hours a year.”
Imagine how else I might use that valuable time!
No wonder I decided to formally concede all attempts to understand fashion. Instead of exerting a Herculean effort to understand how clothes pair well, I now opt for a much simpler system of choosing clothes. Hanging all of my pants and shirts in a line, I simply choose the rightmost pair of pants and the rightmost shirt. Having different numbers of pants and shirts ensures sufficient variety in my outfits. Keeping my newly-purchased stock of clothes, I maintain a certain degree of fashion. Additionally, the system tells me exactly when I need to launder my clothes.
Perhaps I would find a more intricate system of dress less monotonous if I found enjoyment in style. Not choosing or observing clothes carefully growing up, I never experienced the art of dressing to be anything besides tedious. Navigating a busy college life has taught me to eschew unpleasurable activities unless strictly necessary; my reverting to a simple method of selecting clothes is nothing more than a corollary of this life lesson.
In some ways, my reversion to choosing my outfits at random in college was inevitable. Beginning with no intuition about fashion, implanting such an intuition was an optimistic prospect at best. Realizing that not everyone at Princeton concerned themselves with looking proper and that such concern would waste valuable time considering ever-important essays and problem sets have now fully validated my personal decision to no longer care about fashion. In short, we may judge others by the way they dress; however, clothes may or may not represent something about the self in the eye of the wearer.
Ollie Thakar is a first-year from Baltimore, M.D. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.