Fashion at Duke: chronicles of getting ready for class

Maddy Berger

After watching far too many college-themed movies, I had the idea that college kids rolled out of bed and went to class in their pajamas every day. I’ve quickly realized that this is not the case at Duke at all. Everyday I see girls rocking adorable dresses, skirts, jeans, and of course matching masks. I have yet to see one person showing up to an in-person class wearing clothes they had obviously gone to bed in. 


I was surprised when I first noticed this phenomenon. Is there something different about Duke that encourages us to look put together all the time? A professor in one of my classes brought up the concept of “effortless perfection” at Duke - the idea that Duke’s competitive environment pressures students, especially girls, to constantly appear perfect. While my professor’s lesson was more about achieving perfect scores on exams or being an integral member of a club, I think the same idea can be applied to appearing physically perfect. Even if someone got no sleep the night before or is super stressed about an assignment, they still find the energy to put on that coordinated outfit and appear like their life is in order; thus, fashion acts as their security blanket. 


However, I don’t think Duke’s culture of dressing up is necessarily a bad thing. Whenever I’m feeling confident in an outfit, it makes my day better - maybe because the superficial confidence I get from the outfit manifests itself as an internal confidence. College is supposed to be the time during which we discover our true selves - or at least that’s what I’ve been told. And I think fashion plays a surprisingly large role in that growth. 


How we present ourselves to the outside world is oftentimes a reflection of how we view ourselves, or how we want to view ourselves; our clothing choices provide us with an easy way to change this presentation. Duke’s normalization of  “dressing up” creates a space for people to explore their individuality through fashion.


Even still, college is a time where people care about fitting in. Everyone wants to make a good first impression on the new people they meet, and style has the power to influence that impression. I remember waking up on my first morning at Duke and thinking - I have no idea what to wear. 


It was incredibly hot and humid so I felt like a flowy dress was the most practical choice. 


But I immediately thought: what if no one wears dresses here and I look like I’m trying too hard? Should I go for something that will make me stand out or something that is more approachable? All of these questions circled my mind that morning as if my outfit would make or break my day, and I know that a lot of other girls struggled with this same stress as well. Looking back, I was definitely overthinking things, and over the last couple of months I’ve grown to care more about how I feel in an outfit rather than how I think others will perceive me in it. 


Fashion is supposed to be fun, expressive, and creative. At first, I was excited for that classic college experience of wearing pajamas to class every day because it seemed so easy. Now, I love picking out an outfit each morning that makes me feel confident, even if I’m just going to a morning lecture. 


The culture of dressing up for class allows for creativity. But, it still places a pressure on our appearances. We need to support each other regardless of how we choose to dress--pajamas and all.