Fashion Meets Culture Shock: Penn Style as Seen By an Exchange Student

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Fashion Meets Culture Shock: Penn Style as Seen By an Exchange Student

From Ivy League chic to comfy and casual: what I have learned about fashion at Penn from my first 30 days on campus.

Arriving at Penn for the first time can be quite the experience, especially when the temperatures have dropped below-zero, you’ve just gotten off of a 10-hour flight and are carrying two suitcases that, combined, just might weigh more than a baby elephant. However, none of these travel inconveniences can really compare to the cultural shock experienced in terms of the fashion trends I’ve encountered on Penn’s campus. The Quakers’ style has surprised, amused and even bewildered me at times and I’m here to share all of that with you, from the lenses of an exchange student still figuring out her way around Penn.

1. People dress to impress

Image courtesy of The Daily Pennsylvanian

You know that saying, ‘dress for the job you want, not for the job you have’? Well, I’ve definitely found this to be the case for a lot of the Penn students. While my idea of a college campus previously included a swarm of people dressed in sweatpants and UGGs, I was rather surprised to see all of the smart, business-like students walking around Locust at as early as 10am. Whether they’re on their way to a lecture, a club meeting or simply lunch, I truly admire the effort those students put into always looking put-together.

2. Penn is in and of itself a part of your style

Red, navy and white: the signature Penn stamp.
Image courtesy of HerCampus

From sweatshirts, to joggers, baseball caps and raincoats–the Penn logo and signature blue and red colours can be found on almost every student on campus. And while maybe a few months ago I would have refrained from wearing a piece as generic as a University-branded hoodie, the way in which everyone puts an individual spin on theirs has totally changed my mind. I have, too, adopted the belief that it is important to show pride in where you’re studying, and there isn’t a more fun and personal way to do so than through your choice of clothing. It’s one of those things that unites us in our diversity and helps us connect with each other, sometimes without even saying a word, and that for me is what fashion and style is all about.

3. Diversity and contrast

Speaking of diversity, I was interested to discover the ways in which people represent their native cultures and showcase their heritage through their style. I am talking about hairstyles, clothing, accessories–the wide palette of colours, patterns and fabrics that I’ve encountered during my first weeks at Penn have really made me appreciate how lucky I am to be a part of such a diverse and vibrant community.

4. The signature items

Canada Goose jackets are a must-have for frosty winter mornings on campus.
Image Courtesy of IvyGateBlog

However, as it is the case on most other college campuses, there are certain signature items to which Penn students have developed an attachment, and won’t be going away no matter the latest fashion trends. We all see them at least 5 times a day, on the way to class, in the queue of Gourmet Grocer, in the elevators of the high-rises–they’re the Canada Goose and North Face puffer jackets, the high-top Converses, the Polo shirts, the UGG boots… Those are just a few of the examples that have left an impression on me as something that is versatile and casual, easy to throw on but still very much presentable.

5. People do not, I repeat, DO NOT dress according to the temperature

On a more practical note, this is something that may not necessarily apply to all people but I’ve definitely encountered it. If you decide to take a quick peek from your window to see what people are wearing before you head out, don’t bother. It’s 50 degrees outside? Check out this guy in his shorts and a rugby t-shirt. A mild 78 degrees on a sunny day? A girl that used to live in Spain is rocking her North Face puffer jacket and ear muffs. At Penn, I quickly came to terms with the fact that, in such unpredictable weather, you’re better off wearing whatever you feel like and hoping the gods of mild temperatures and dry weather are on your side. This, of course, won’t happen too often; especially in the winter months, you’re most likely going to freeze your face off regardless of your choice of outfit, so you might as well be fashionable while frozen.

Overall, if there is one thing to say about my initial clos(th)e(s) encounters with fashion on Penn’s campus is that, while students’ style might not be so diverse on a day-to-day basis, they still manage to showcase their individuality and have fun with their style. What I appreciate is the judgement-free atmosphere: you can be in your penguin-printed pajamas in the middle of the day, or wearing a pair of $200 jeans. People will rarely make assumptions about your personality or character based on your clothing–you might even get a compliment on those fuzzy slippers you are rocking at Starbucks under Commons. It’s okay if you don’t agree with some of the things I’ve found interesting about Penn’s fashion choices–it just goes to show that each one of us views fashion and style differently, which makes it all the more interesting.

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