I’ve never been huge on name brands. Not because I don’t appreciate them—the history and glamour behind brands like Louis Vuitton and Gucci are something I can get behind, but simply can’t afford. This isn’t taboo for me though—I grew up in Tyngsborough, Massachusetts, a town completely ridden of name brands. I’m sure others could afford them if they wanted to, but that wasn’t the style high school girls tended to go for in 2016. It was the time of American Eagle jeans, leggings, and big T-shirts.
My family has never been incredibly wealthy, and I’m okay with that. My main stops for shopping have always been T.J. Maxx or Marshalls (and, honestly, you are missing out if those aren’t yours too), and I very rarely purchase items for myself over $20. I didn’t get my first “expensive” pair of shoes until my 16th birthday, when my parents graciously gifted me a pair of Birkenstocks I had wanted for years. Once I wore them to school, although never feeling lesser-than in the first place, I suddenly felt better about myself. Not that it ever bothered me, but once I put on a pair of expensive shoes, I felt my sense of self-worth increase. I mean, they just fit so much better than the knock-offs I bought at Target.
On my first few days in Boston, I started to notice a big difference in my peers, one I had never encountered before. Students would pull their IDs out of Louis Vuitton wallets, or wear a different name-brand shirt to class each day. I remember seeing someone in a pair of sneakers that I thought were cool. I later learned they cost almost $2,000. Writing this, I am wearing sandals that cost me $15, and I definitely did not have to transfer money from savings to buy them. This is no shock, considering 40 percent of Emerson students have the financial security to pay for their tuition without taking out loans.
I took myself out to buy some new clothes on my third day in Boston. I recall dropping around $60 on new clothes. I felt better about myself when wearing my new outfits, but I was still incredibly intimidated walking down Boylston Street seeing name brands on belts, shirts, and shoes. More than just feeling intimidated, I felt myself lose my sense of self-worth. I’ve always been very invested in my personal style, as it’s something that has taught me to love myself throughout the years. Yet, at Emerson, I couldn’t shake the terrible feeling of not looking good enough in clothes that usually gave me a sense of who I am.
Just like many other new students coming into Emerson, I faced a sense of culture shock once I arrived here as a freshman. Students here are typically aware that Emerson stands out from other institutions because we have a wonderful level of respect for one another, and students are more accepting than at other colleges. However, no one seems to talk about the transition one has to go through, coming into an environment of wealthy students from one not so lavish—especially as someone who only owned one pair of Birkenstocks. There is a constant pressure within fashion trends here to show off your wealth, wear the biggest name brands, and keep up with what other students are wearing.
As someone who can’t even afford a Gucci zipper, I find myself falling beneath this standard each day. My love for style makes me someone who constantly wants to be up to date with current trends, but I still struggle trying to maneuver this. But I’m not alone in this—many students have expressed that the most frustrating thing about their experience at Emerson is their struggle with financial security.
I have been forced to re-teach myself how to be okay with my financial situation due to this constant pressure. It can still be disheartening, of course, but I have constructed a sense of style that feels the most like me. I feel comfortable in my skin, and I find confidence each day through the outfits I put together. I’ve found comfort in telling myself that my sense of style is not dependent on the amount of money I spend on my clothes. Every day I learn a little more about how the clothes I do own make my style unique. Being interested in style isn’t always about keeping up with ever-changing trends.
Living Arts Editor Grace Griffin did not edit this article due to conflict of interest.