The students of the summer session generally walk around in loose, comfortable clothes—outfits a little wrinkled from being packed inside of a suitcase, but for the most part bringing a casual and uniquely adolescent vibe to the campus. For boys, this unspoken uniform mostly consists of cargo pants or athletic shorts and some sort of graphic t-shirt, and for girls, short-shorts and a slightly dressier pair of shorts. These are very typical costumes for an American teenager; They are versatile and simple, unaffected by dress codes or weather. After all, it’s summer!
There is a noticeable difference between the way guys and girls dress, even in the androgyny of summer styles. Boys tend to sport shorter socks, longer pants, and more shapeless shirts, whereas girls often wear socks up to the mid-calf or the knee, shorts to the mid-thigh, and form-fitting shirts. Some guys choose to put their hair in “man-buns” or slightly longer styles, like Ghazi Bilbeisi, who is from Jordan and wears his hair in a style with shaved sides and a longer part put into a bun on the top of his head. But on the whole, summer fashion is pretty homogenous and shows that now that school is out, there’s less of a need to impress others.
However, due to Phillips Exeter’s diverse student body, this style is not necessarily the norm for everyone. Claudia Mak, from Indonesia, notes that “At home, we’re not supposed to show any skin and people will cover their eyes if you do.” Claudia dons a pair of jean shorts and a t-shirt tied with a hair elastic over a tank top. “I would never be allowed to dress like this in Indonesia—it feels so weird!” she exclaims. Claudia is just one example of a student whose home has a different fashion norm than what most New England teenagers tend to wear. Emily Staley, who grew up on a Navajo reservation in Arizona, also recounts that in her culture the norm is long skirts and less skin even in the heat of the summer.
Fashion can be a manifestation of a culture’s values; The simplicity and near laziness of American adolescent fashion can be attributed to the country’s focus on individual comfort. But when examining fashion one must remember that the fact that a style of dress is traditional or somehow different than the norm does not mean it is restricting or wrong in any way. Hend Zahrawi, from California, wears a hijab. She thinks of it as part of her outfit and co-ordinates the rest of her clothes with it. She wears a palette of greys and white patterns to match her beautiful white hijab. Hend tells me that she feels comfortable wearing it and her hijab is incorporated into her personal style. It’s just another way for her to express herself.
And that is the core of fashion: A means of self-expression. You may have seen me around the campus in my mostly bright pink and pastel attire and combination of skirts—to tell the truth, I have probably not worn a single pair of pants since April–ranging from long circle skirts to shiny, holographic skater skirts, a look which has been described as reminiscent of a high school girl from the fifties or a character in a John Hughes film. Although this is certainly a far cry from shorts or cargo pants, it’s what makes me feel comfortable. I choose to view style as a personal art form and a way of loudly expressing who I am. Summer is a time when there are truly no restrictions on how you can dress and present yourself and it is an incredible opportunity to start thinking about your style.