Birkenstocks, Crop Tops, Baseball Caps, Oh My!

Amidst the grueling effort of choosing what we were going to wear out, my roommate remarked on the homogeneity in fashion within the 5Cs. She noted how coming here everyone, despite their different backgrounds, wears the same clothing items adapting to what is deemed the Southern California style: Birkenstocks, baseball caps, crop tops and short-shorts among many other SoCal fashion essentials.

The 5Cs are no exception to these trends. Each college in the Claremont Consortium asserts their desire to foster diversity, bringing in individuals from a rich variety of backgrounds, experiences and perspectives, which begs the question: shouldn’t such variety encourage a wider assortment of fashion trends, distancing rather conforming to the homogenous SoCal style?  

In Psychology, Bandura’s social learning theory claims that we learn from our role models through imitation and observation. Although this is chiefly in reference to the original learning of social norms, it is possible that this also exists in the form of adaptation to new norms.

My roommate, Hannah State PO ’20, from New York said that she would always wear heeled boots to school. Over here, though, her style is a lot more casual. She wouldn’t wear her ‘New York style’ here because of the SoCal fashion environment that the 5Cs inadvertently imply. At the same time, changes in fashion trends are also partly based on lifestyle.

“In terms of social culture, the venues in which I would hang out with my friends at are different.” State told me. “I would wear dressier clothing to dinner downtown or generally wear more clothing due to the colder weather.” She credited not only the change in geographical location but also a college environment where one’s social life revolves around being on campus rather than in the city for her stylistic transformation into the SoCal trend.

It is essentially this change in lifestyle that contributes to one’s need to comply to the homogenous style found here, which causes one to ask: is coming here and adapting to this style a way to finally embrace a desired style that wasn’t feasible elsewhere? Or, is it straying away from an already internalized style to merely conform and adapt to the present geographical norm?

By contrast, I come from Singapore, which more or less encompasses the same sunshine that envelopes California. I’m used to wearing shorts, a thin blouse, and flip flops, so I have the same style here that I had back home. In fact, the prevalence of ‘SoCal’ clothing has allowed me to embrace this summer-influenced style even more. Of course, some parts of Singapore were more conservative than others, and if I were marked by that influence, the considerable lack of clothing here may have been a culture shock to me. However, my personal experience and background doesn’t offer me the need to comply because this is already the style I’ve personally internalized.

Ellen Duanmu PO ’20, an international student from China that has also spent a majority of her education in the U.S., offered her coupled perspective on the topic.

“Back at home in China, I would wear clothing with slightly more coverage; for example I would still wear off-shoulder pieces like this,” Duanmu said, gesturing to her white blouse.“But not pieces like halter tops as much.” She elaborated that she would still wear these tops but mostly during nights out with her friends rather than during the day when her family would see it.

“My parents were fine with my style when we were alone but they would disapprove only in China when we would meet relatives.”

Duanmu maintained this laid-back, dressy style throughout her school years in Connecticut, barring seasonal and occasional social factors, but it is over here in Claremont that she has been able to freely embrace this Southern California style that she had already internalized within her.

“In China, [my style] was more conforming than over here where I can embrace it,” Duanmu concluded.

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