Far from being an isolated industry, fashion reaches beyond clothing and into the way we choose to live our lives. It can both influence and be influenced, mirror or be mirrored. What we wear has a direct impact on our surroundings, and our surroundings strongly shape the way we decide to dress. So, in order to understand a fashion trend and its influences, we need to be aware of our environment, of what influences our way of living, whether it be socially, economically, and even politically.
When it comes to exploring fashion trends in universities, a lot goes into the equation: for many, it is an age of awakening, where one explores different cultures and experiences with different social behaviours, away from the safe havens that are home and school.
As we begin looking at what influences University trends, it is important to remember that university lasts between 2 and 4 years for most, meaning that campus fashion is forever changing, with fresh faces and styles arriving every year, while others exit unnoticed.
Three main aspects shape campus fashion trends: the new environments, new personalities and new finances. Often, each of these merge, as is the case in the universities of the United Kingdom. Our universities are internationally renowned and, unsurprisingly, attract students from hundreds of different backgrounds, thus bringing each of these cultures, with their own way of seeing and using fashion, closer together. This enables students to inform themselves about different trends in different countries, and explore the pros and the cons with someone personally involved. Only last week did I have a long conversation with an Iranian friend about different aspects of having or not having a beard, and how he used this social obligation to his advantage when dressing himself.
But cultural influences are not limited to exotic locales. Before crossing the international border of fashion, university students experience different sub-cultures within their own countries and communities. Most British-raised students are from a different town in the UK to their university, and so they bring their own sub-culture and ways of dressing to the campus, shaping and influencing trends in a small yet meaningful manner.
These subcultures are shaped by many things, such as political actuality and pop culture. Over the last few years, the Keffiyeh came back into style due to media coverage of the political unrest in North Africa and the Middle East. It is sometimes worn as a sign of support to our fellow Libyan students, but is most of the time used as a fashion item, which shows just how powerful current affairs are in deciding trends.
To prove the influence of pop culture, I will use the example of pop phenomena Gossip Girl, a major teen drama series, which has been at the forefront of setting trends for young adults. A lot of women get their trend reports and style tips from what they see their favorite TV show characters wearing, and Gossip Girl’s styling team have taken that fact into account. By being fashion forward and even ahead of some trends Gossip Girl has proved to be a great model to young women who want to be updated on all things new in the fashion world. In the University of Exeter, there sometimes seem to be a correlation between what was on the last episode and what is worn in the following week. Observing such a phenomena first hand is incredible.
Most importantly, a new environment means no established self. Students can therefore create their own fashion identity in a way that they would never have done “back at home”. This is incredibly important, as university is a time when creating a new, adult personality becomes a priority. One wants to emerge changed. One wants to cut away from the past, to be accepted in the adult world. But as fashion mentors are rare, every student tries a different path. Some buy their first shirt at university. Some discover the power of ties. Others the power of pencil skirts and designer hand-bags. I bought my first suit while at University, and never regretted it. Some even decide to leave all their 6th form clothes behind and buy a whole new wardrobe during fresher’s week.
Sadly, being a student also involves having restrained financial freedom, and most cannot afford a new designer dress or suit every season. Most students shop during the sales, in unwanted remains of previous collections, in charity shops… Many also invest in vintage or try to make their own accessories. All this creates a wardrobe that cannot be seen anywhere else. It is a patchwork made of different cultures and sub-cultures, where Prada meets Urban Outfitters on the hangers and where Kurt Geiger heels are hidden behind Primark sandals.
And so every year, a completely new combination is created, enabling students to walk towards their future with their head high, proud of being unique in one of the last fortress of un-parented, un-corporated fashion.
By Adrien Book. Catch the rest of this series on fashionising.com!