From WA to WAWA: West Coast native discusses differences in style between coasts


From WA to WAWA: West Coast native discusses differences in style between coasts


Sporty clothing and breathtaking landscapes distinguish the Pacific Northwest from the East’s concrete jungles.

While some may be disappointed to discover their high school yearbook was named after a convenience store, I find this amusing. Back home in Washington, my high school yearbook was titled WAWA and no one, not even the adviser, knew why. Here on the East, we all know WAWA is the holiest of convenience stores, and already in two months, I have more emotional ties to the store than the book of my high school glory. Though a coincidence, I believe this incidence can serve as a metaphor to some of the differences in culture, namely fashion, between the West and East Coast. What may be considered stylish and significant on the West can be cheap and common on the East. Here are the top differences I both happily embrace and sadly let go with each plane ride.

So long Cali cool:

Back when I was in Washington, I wouldn’t describe the style to be Californian. But more than 2,000 miles of distance has made me realize we must have spent much time looking south for inspiration. The SoCal influence is best seen in the details I often overlooked but notice missing here. Belly-button rings, sequins, blonde hair– where have you gone? I am not saying there are less people with blonde hair at Penn, but there seems to be less pressure to dye your hair blonde. In my high school, it was a right of passage to bleach your hair, grow it out long, and start tanning at one point or another. Even in a small town in the middle of Washington, you would find personal tanning beds in people’s homes. Trust me.

But here, students seem to embrace their natural skin and hair color. Walk to class, and a sea of wavy, mid-length brunette locks face you. Sometimes the hair is tucked in a turtleneck or pushed back by thick black glasses. Though you can find your fair share of hipsters wearing reading glasses in Washington, I struggle to picture any of my old classmates donning a mustard-color turtleneck. Maybe trends have changed, we have matured, and one of my fellow graduates is wearing beige knit right now? But I still have my doubts. Turtlenecks and grandparent colors are not necessarily cool, at least not in the golden state of mind.

What are snow boots?

Given, some of these differences in dressing result from differences in weather. However, let’s first set somethings straight. It does get cold in the West, and not all of Washington is miserably rainy like Seattle — case in point, I live in a desert and there is a ski resort 30 minutes away from my house. Yet when you put on snow boots in Washington, you’re about to trek a mountain; not walk to class. In the same way, full-length parkas and the proper winter coat are generally avoided. Instead, you wear puffer jackets, Carhartt, or if rad enough, your gnarly ski coat. Sorry Canada Goose. Even if bundling up was an everyday occurrence, The North Face wins in the Pacific Northwest.

West does athleisure best:

As you may have already noticed, the West’s style is much more influenced by athletics, at least when comparing high school students to college students in the Ivy League. Judging by the participation at Penn athletic events, this is no surprise. Athletics aren’t the main focus here and, therefore, they do not spread into clothing. On the other hand, when hiking a mountain is a matter of a 10 minute car ride, workout clothing becomes part of a lifestyle on the West. Healthy, casual, and elite, workout brands like lululemon and Nike are as acceptable, and expensive, as designer clothing. Sure you see plenty of yoga pants and sneakers on Locust Walk, but what about head-to-toe lululemon? And if you do, where do you assume they are going? The other day when I was asked if I was going to the gym because of my yoga pants, Nikes, and off-the-shoulder top, I felt both self-conscious and annoyed. No one back home would ask me that. Back home, there is no boundary to where you can wear workout clothing.

Guys actually have style here:

Maybe if the West actually had a line between workout clothes and real clothes, guys would have as good taste as they do here? Again, this may be a matter of maturity between high school boys and college men, but I have seen enough West coast grads come back from college wearing the same embarrassing pieces from high school. Basketball shorts, two pairs of high socks, sweatshirts, Jordan sandals, Nike everything…The fact I can’t remember the last time I saw a Nike “Just do it” shirt is miraculous. I thought the swoosh was etched in my mind forever. Rather, I am content to see button downs, sweaters, leather-jackets, polos, and actual pants, whether jeans, khaki, or some other popular brown color. This is not to say the guys here aren’t athletic; to be honest, half of the Jordan wearers back home didn’t even play basketball. Males here just don’t seem compelled to pose as or prove that they are some sort of baller. We Penn students may still be posing, but the look is different, and at least for me, this change is refreshing.

—Emily Cieslak

Image courtesy of Pinterest

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