Fashion v. Function for a California College Student

School is back in session, and with the new year comes a new chance to show off the style you spent all summer cultivating (or not, let’s be real; I mostly wear pajamas and cut-off shorts during the summer). 

I would love to hear about all of your new favorite clothes and styles, but because I have the floor for now, I am going to talk about my haphazard transition back into California style.

Ever since I spent last spring in Paris, the city of drab colors, I’ve had an immense need to wear almost entirely black. I have been sporting a sort of Mary Kate and Ashley meets Siouxsie Sioux meets 80s aerobic wear … which adds up to a sort of boho-punk-sport-goth? Mostly, I look like I’m wearing several large bags of black clothing with some spandex shorts thrown in. If I were given my way—if the temperatures were more moderate and autumn here actually existed—I would pile on layer upon layer of black and gray. But, alas, it is much too warm.

So what is a style-obsessed human like me to do in Claremont? Over the last three years, I have come to terms with the need for some semblance of practicality, which means not only dressing for the heat, but also for the laid-back style that dictates student appearance on campus. Yet, after all this time, it is still hard to figure out what will make me feel pretty and allow me to get to class on time. I constantly struggle to find a way to dress functionally but also fashionably. The questions I ask myself as I get ready each day have become a mantra of sorts: Can I bike in this skirt? Will I be warm enough later when the winds blow in? Can I break it down in these shoes? In the end, function becomes just as important as form. 

As I have gotten better at dressing Claremont-appropriately, I have found myself layering, mixing, and (almost) matching my clothes in a new, utilitarian way. Sometimes I wear leggings under my shorts or weird, colorful spandex under my dresses. Other times I wear a dress over my pants because I can’t find a shirt I like and the way the dress billows away from my body convinces me that it’s really not that hot outside. (Spoiler alert: It is.) And I always throw an extra layer in my bag for the overly air-conditioned academic buildings. 

Getting dressed has become a game: How can I look like a Raf Simmons runway model, but also feel like I am dressed suitably for the 100-plus-degree weather? Some of my coping mechanisms have been to hoard all of the silk and light cotton that I can find at thrift stores and to wear leggings in a way that would have horrified me in high school—as pants. There, I said it. I wear leggings as pants. 

The balancing act is difficult, however, and on many days I realize that I made a huge mistake as I am walking the 10 feet from the bike rack to the doors of Edmunds. For example, the orange velour stirrup pants that I convinced myself would not be too hot are irrefutably not light enough to wear on a hot day, and maybe never will be in this part of California. But I still get up the next day, perhaps a bit wearier, and try my best to consider the function, as well as the aesthetics, of what I put on.

So here is my challenge to all of you fashion lovers this fall: Challenge yourself and consider all of the elements of a garment and of a look. Don’t just give up in the heat. Don’t just play with your style the same way you always have. I urge you instead to get creative and find an alternative way to express your style. Maybe try all black, or dye your hair neon green, or finally put on those shoes you love but never have been able to wear. Or maybe find new ways to wear old clothes. And all the while, ask yourself: How does your fashion dictate your function and your function dictate your fashion? Who knows, maybe you’ll find what I think all of us fashion nerds are always searching for: a truer visual expression of yourself.

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