Self-expression in fashion – The Sagamore

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Every day, I wander through the long, crowded halls of the school, and sometimes I feel like walking unprepared in the middle of an impromptu fashion show. All around me, students model flowing dresses, ripped jeans, fishnet leggings, winged eyeliner, frilly skirts, platform boots, oversized striped shirts, printed crop tops and collections elaborate pieces of jewelry that collide and collide as they advance to their next class. I used to think I was interesting for dyeing the ends of my hair purple, but now, amid the budding daring of my peers, I’m just fading into the background.

It seems that as we get older, high school kids are increasingly turning to more adventurous personal styles. Part of this exciting trend may be attributed to the influx of alone time to think during the pandemic and the growing presence of fashion trends on TikTok. But at Brookline, I notice, it seems it was mostly people featuring women who embraced this cultural development. The boys – in their sweatpants, hoodies, and cotton t-shirts – sometimes look surprisingly identical to me.

This major discrepancy in clothing styles by gender points to societal issues in a broader sense. More than ever, girls and gender non-conforming people are rejecting cultural expectations. We free ourselves to dress as we wish, thus producing an exciting diversity of creative expression.

Of course, not all students featuring women wear flashy and elaborate outfits on a daily basis, but if they wish, this risk is further encouraged in the social setting of the high school. And yet, male identity, almost entirely devoid of sartorial variation in high school, remains repressed.

Cisgender heterosexual boys exist in our society for the time being. We teach them to be hyper-aware of any movement that is too feminine, and out of fear, boys limit themselves to what they know is accepted. In bewildering numbers, they dress alike and ultimately blend into an embodiment of stereotypes.

I fear that by doing so, they are suppressing an innate human urge to speak out. Personal style is an outlet for interpreting and exploring our emotional existence, and when we force ourselves to assimilate into the crowd, we lose the ability to fully discover our own identities. In this sense, conformism can rob us of the most interesting and exciting times of adolescence.

When we stop hiding from the unknown depths of our complicated identities, there is a sense of freedom that emanates from our interactions with each other. We reconnect with an intrinsic openness that makes us excited to absorb the world. We become less critical, more friendly and at peace.

But for many male high school students, it seems there is a place for unspoken recognition, limiting the way they can dress, speak, and interact with each other in a narrow set of learned ways.

This undercurrent of toxic masculinity weaves its way through high school, possibly spanning other aspects of our culture. From what I’ve noticed, people who identify as feminine are friendlier and compliment each other faster than their male counterparts. Is it too feminine to be nice?

When I talk to my peers about homework, the boys I know are less likely to admit that they work hard. They cling to “I barely studied” or “I did this in ten minutes”. Is it too feminine to make an effort in school work?

I often feel like when boys are talking to each other there are inclinations, thoughts and feelings that lurk beneath the surface. Instead of saying what they would do naturally, they filter their personality in confined language and lean on humor at all times. Is it too feminine to say what you really mean? Is it too feminine to be serious sometimes? The list is lengthened increasingly.

I don’t envy the straight cisgender boy position. Certainly a lot of boys in high school, if not most, feel completely satisfied with the clothes they wear. But it is the expectation of sameness, the absence of options, that prevents them from considering the beautiful complexities and mysteries of our existence.

Fashion is a way of communicating outwardly the inexplicable inner events of our mind and soul. When entrenched attitudes in society prevent some people from speaking out, we are all worse off.


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