When I arrived at King’s at the start of my first year I had been working for most of my gap year, and had been able to collect for myself a considerable wardrobe. I remember being so proud of my pretty dresses, fashionable belts, and towering heels. I had come from a school where everyone made a lot of effort in the way they dressed, and loved to dress up. I was used to people appreciating my traditional ‘feminine’ dressing as part of my own personal style.
Yet, once at King’s, supposedly the most open-minded of the colleges, I found that people judged me for the way I dressed. I discovered that some of the girls (who I am now, in fact, very goods friends with), thought that I was snobby and that I tried too hard. The general impression they gave was that, now that I was at university, I should concentrate on what really mattered, my mind. To wear dresses and make-up every day was obviously only pandering to men; my heels were a sign of the fact that I allowed society to force me into an uncomfortable female ‘uniform’.
I am sure that this kind of judgement is probably more common in King’s than in some of the other Cambridge colleges, and most likely far more widespread in Cambridge than it is in other universities. But it is true that there is a form of ‘university dressing’ that students tend to adopt up and down the country. T-shirts, jeans and trainers are de rigueur.
There is nothing wrong with this in itself. I accept that most people probably do feel more comfortable in flat shoes than they do in skyscraper heels, and with good reason. Also, I accept that people like the student aesthetic. The problem comes when those who like to dress down attempt to force their idea of what is comfortable and practical on others, and assume that those who dress up must be doing so because they’re trying to be something they’re not.
I admit that my heels probably are a bit excessive, but they make me feel great, whereas, when I wear trainers, I feel quite uncomfortable. This is quite unusual, I know, and I’ll forgive people for not quite understanding. But that’s where I’ll draw the line. I have a real problem with people who think that skirts must be uncomfortable or ‘oppressive’ in some way. Why? They allow you to move freely enough, don’t they? I am actually convinced that when people judge my skirts as being impractical, they are actually making a purely aesthetic judgement. Similarly, what makes a loose chiffon blouse any less practical than a t-shirt?
In the past, women have been forced to adopt a ‘feminine’ aesthetic, and, in a more liberated age, there has, understandably, been a backlash against this. The tendency among some to judge women who stick to older modes of dressing has definitely been a part of this. The idea is that women no longer need to dress up, and that they therefore shouldn’t. But forcing women to wear jeans is just as oppressive as forcing them to wear a skirt. Similarly, forcing the student aesthetic on people is pure hypocrisy. Women in the past fought for the right to choose how they express themselves, and that right to choose should be honoured.
So, if you enjoy dressing up, and feel that it enables you to express yourself, don’t allow people to make you feel as though you need to look like everyone else. Put on your strappy heels, don your billowing skirt, and embrace the fact that university should be a place of variety. Don’t allow Cambridge to become aesthetically monotonous.