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BENITEZ: US college fashion allows for significant expression of freedom

Column: Hear me out

U.S. culture allows college students to dress comfortably and casually, and it is an important reminder of our freedom to express ourselves. – Photo by @DentonIBDP / Twitter

When I was told that American students wore pajamas and slippers to class, I did not actually believe that I would see them wearing loungewear to dining halls and libraries. It sounded so lazy and quite surreal to me, a born and raised Latina that had to dress up to go to school, the doctor's office and even the mall.

I was surprised that the "American students dress ugly" discourse I grew up hearing might actually be true. Yet, I could not be more wrong. What they have is something fascinating: A culture of casual clothes and self-expression, something I had never seen anywhere else.

I grew up in the south of Brazil, a place of social clubs and dress codes. Over there, you are constantly judged for what you wear and how you present yourself — a pressure that follows you from elementary school all the way to adulthood.

It was not until I moved to the U.S. that I realized how tiring and time-consuming it was to always care about every inch of your appearance to please others, and it was not until I came to Rutgers that I truly understood the idea behind college fashion.

 In the 20th century, American college students at universities such as Princeton and Penn State began resisting the dress code imposed on their campuses. They wanted to be able to dress more comfortably, create their own dressing culture and not follow a dress code that was implemented decades ago as a socioeconomic distinguisher.

This movement spread across different university campuses throughout time, developing into what we see nowadays: a trend of comfort and crocs.

 Leggings, joggers, hoodies, yoga pants, sandals, sneakers and slippers are all staples of college fashion and are even expected from you. Some brands even end up catering to these, such as Lululemon Athletica and UGG, to the extent that even though they are meant to be worn as loungewear, they have become part of students' everyday life.

Sportswear is a culture and comfort that is seen as a must. But this is way bigger than just trends and fashion choices.

The culture of casual fashion in American universities created a space where people feel comfortable exploring their identity and enabling students' freedom of self-expression. The idea that no one cares about what you are wearing runs strong amongst campuses. It all may be a very well-placed placebo effect, yet it makes perfect sense.

No one is going to judge you for not wanting to sit in a 2-hour lecture with uncomfortable jeans and tight clothes, and almost no one will expect you to wake up earlier to get ready in the mornings (although some of us still do it). We all relate to each other in this way.

Even though I was initially skeptical of the American fashion culture, I quickly adapted to it. Back home, college students dress to fit a socioeconomic mold, and the fashion seems to merge into one big judgmental force that follows you around.

Living at Rutgers has made me realize how much freedom comes from liberating oneself through clothes. I became the biggest fan of loungewear for class and the harshest advocate for college fashion because I have realized how prioritizing comfort and dressing for yourself can always be extremely beneficial for your mental health.

The practice of dressing for yourself, besides being an act of freedom, allows you to express your individuality and personality, which can boost your self-esteem and make you feel better.

Moreover, taking the time to choose an outfit that makes you feel good and prioritizing yourself is a form of self-care that many take for granted. Letting your creativity run free through what you wear is a form of self-expression that may help you feel more connected to yourself.

Besides that, by not focusing on appealing to others, you create the time and mental energy to care about other things, such as relationships, classes, jobs, self-care or anything that might come to mind.

If there is something that the U.S. has done right, it is giving its kids a chance to express their identities and creating a healthier dressing culture than most countries around the world.

What many call "dressing ugly" is just an example of the freedom kids feel to be themselves, which is something to be incredibly proud of. I have committed myself to following the American college fashion culture, and if there is one thing I know for sure, it is that I am never going back.

Marina Benitez is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies and minoring in gender and media. Her column, "Hear me out," runs on alternate Tuesdays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

YOUR VOICE | The Daily Targum welcomes submissions from all readers. Due to space limitations in our print newspaper, letters to the editor must not exceed 500 words. Guest columns and commentaries must be between 700 and 850 words. All authors must include their name, phone number, class year and college affiliation or department to be considered for publication. Please submit via email to by 4 p.m. to be considered for the following day’s publication. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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