So you think you can dress up: a comparison of fashion culture at Stanford and Berkeley
There is something distinctive about college fashion; call it the daring of youth or the excitement of independent living. Universities welcome students from all over the world, who come together to form a melting pot of ideas, lived experiences and customs. Students choose to signal who they are – their values and identity – in several ways. One of these methods is the centuries-old individualistic tradition of wear whatever you want (yes, even socks and sandals).
As Big Game unfolded, I wanted to take a closer look at the different fashion cultures of Stanford and Berkeley. At Stanford, I am constantly amazed by the innovative spirit of my peers, especially as it translates into self-expression. I thought, surely, that Berkeley must have an equally unique fashion. In order to better understand this phenomenon, I spent time on both campuses taking photos of eye-catching outfits and chatting with some of the students who created the looks. I’ve learned that there is no shortage of stellar and stunning badges at every university. Students convey stories through their chosen outfits, letting the clothes transcend their material existence, becoming art.
Innovation and confidence at Stanford
On the farm, the clothes act as a projection of a certain internal reality, and the reality is often fluid. If you’re plagued by the fatigue of studying for that halfway chemistry all night long, the reality is probably a trusty pair of black leggings paired with a favorite Stanford sweatshirt. Cardinal casual attire seems like a must-have on campus, meeting the criteria of comfort and style.
Despite this, Stanford’s innovative philosophy still shines as students express themselves in captivating ways. Students are full of opportunities to express a unique perspective through fresh new fashion. It shows everywhere. Take Coffee House (better known as CoHo), where young philosophers engage in heated verbal battles over ethics or current affairs. Their chosen armor? Perhaps a raised pair of timeless Chuck Taylors, a midnight black turtleneck and a cheetah print mini skirt. The weapon of choice? The captivating confidence of the wearer as they are carried with absolute certainty.
This powerful sartorial confidence is evident in Main Quad, where, skating past Memorial Church, zips up a flash of soft, earthy tones. A pair of tangerine skates serve as their vessel while a sunset-draped skirt, a hazelnut cotton bandana and a basil tube top cut the wind.
Even in the solemn Green Library, the students are busy expressing themselves. A look at the grand staircase caught my attention; a Stanford cardinal wearing a marbled gray sweater with a burgundy collar protruding from the outer layer. A pair of black cuffed chinos is accented by a matching belt in smoky hues. Silver and gold adorn the fingers and neck of the student like the sweat of the sun and the tears of the moon.
At Stanford, logic is not intrinsic to student dress. Instead, sets often build on the feelings and instincts of the wearer. Sometimes there is no reasoning behind what brings us joy as we retain our respective tastes for the sake of being. At Stanford, the different styles reflect a myriad of student understandings. These looks range from: tall and lavish or sporty and clean to nostalgic and evocative or grunge and edgy.
Experimentation and freedom in Berkeley
Meanwhile, in Berkeley, it’s as if the city itself breathes life into student fashion statements, moving up and down like the streets surrounding the university. Now imagine this: Sproul Plaza. Telegraph Street. To the Berkeley regular, the words conjure up vivid images: hordes of people socializing and moving in the currents, shops minutes away from the dorms. It means fashion – a lot.
To be at one with the culture of fashion in Berkeley is to constantly challenge expectations and contribute to the unique culture of protest. However, students at Berkeley similarly lean on sporting hobbies like those on the farm, largely prioritizing the comfort of their college gear.
However, the reality I witnessed was nebulous (and slightly reminiscent of Stanford); wild colors and textures in surprising configurations flooded my vision, and it was both blinding and deafening.
Along the street, I ran into college students dressed in 2000s velor crop tops, acid-washed Bermuda shorts, and full-color Nike Air Max.
Others walked past me in regal palazzo pants and perfectly matched purple hair.
Sitting upstairs at Café Milano, a student sipped coffee in a delicate beaded silk tank top, topped with a multi-patch crochet cardigan and a voluminous strawberry red skirt.
Something about the fashion culture in Berkeley struck me as fascinating, perhaps because I entered space as an alien. However, the openness of the campus seemed to contribute to this atmosphere of freedom and experimentation. Compared to the very self-contained “Stanford bubble” that I had lived in for seven weeks, life in Berkeley was a little breath of fresh air.
Diversity and overcoming barriers in every microcosm
While my opinions are inherently biased due to my Stanford Affiliate status and my limited time at Berkeley gave me a limited perspective on its fashion culture, some things remain clear. Students’ stylistic differences don’t necessarily lie in what they choose to wear. Rather, the differences lie in perceptions of what others expect them to look like.
At both universities, geographic factors certainly come into play, determining fashionable accessibility in terms of proximity and cost. At Stanford, getting new clothes is a big trip, by bus, Uber, or LYFT. While the Stanford Mall is ten minutes from campus, there are plenty of department stores offering luxury brands and pricey goods, an ideal location for the ordinary, frugal student. More affordable clothing stores in the area, like Macy’s, attract the cost, but don’t necessarily meet college standards for courage or style. Some thrift stores are settling in the region but remain inaccessible on foot like those in Berkeley. In Cal, there is a seemingly endless supply of shops along the road just minutes from the student dorms. Likewise, San Francisco’s many cool and trendy boutiques are only a twenty-minute drive from the Berkeley campus.
Despite these differences, the two student bodies act like microcosms, forming their own unique fashion cultures as they navigate local barriers and expectations. Each culture sets its own distinctive trends and norms, contributing to each university’s greater narrative of diversity and innovation.
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective opinions, thoughts, and reviews.