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Dressing to Impress

By Sarah A. Rodriguez

Two weeks ago, my roommates came home to discover me standing in the bathroom, wearing very little and dumping the blood-red contents of a bottle onto my hair (and most of my arms).

They weren't all that surprised. Coming home to discover me dying my hair is not a new occurrence for them. Over the past four years, a variety of colors have had their turn in the spotlight-burgundy, purple, red-streaked, black, blonde streaked and most recently, neon red. The move to color my hair an obviously-fake shade just before I start interviewing for jobs may not have been the wisest move ever, but I had to do it. It was partially due to how I still want to be Angela (Claire Danes) from "My So-Called Life." But it was mainly because of Women's Studies 132: "Shop 'Till You Drop."

As most of my fellow "Shop"-ers know, we recently discussed in section the question of why we wear what we wear-more particularly, why we may have started to dress differently once we came to Harvard. For me, my fashion conversion was a combination of factors-one of which being that I Suddenly lived less than four driving hours away from a Gap. (Yes, there are some parts of the world still like that.) However, a lot of it did have to do with social pressure. I honestly felt like my clothing didn't belong. I had my separate dress-up and dress-down t-shirts and Converse, but I soon learned that that wasn't enough.

I should have seen it coming, I have, hidden in the deep dark corners of my past, a history of being what some might call a "terrible" dresser. In junior high and high school, my closet was filled with a variety of fantastic items-knee-length plaid shorts, funky Hawaiian shirts and even a pair of plastic earrings shaped like orange clownfish. My sister, then an ultra fashion-conscious cheerleader, tried and failed to make me hide in the closet when her friends came over. (Much to my chagrin, she could hide the clownfish in there.) In the southern Texas fashion world of bright colors, tons of makeup, big hair and layers of jewelry, I knew I couldn't-and didn't want to-fit in. After all I mused, I'd soon be leaving for Harvard. People there world be much too intelligent to judge me on something as superficial as the way I dressed.

But as college life progressed and I wormed my way into various summer internships, the oddities in my closet had to make way for shades of khaki, white and an awful lot of black. My outfits began to-gasp-coordinate. My mother was proud. My sister was relieved. My employers were satisfied. And at first, I too was happy. Then I realized the stifling truth: I was mysteriously drawn to clothes that secretly made me gag because I felt I should like them, not because I actually did like them. Today, fortunately, I've finally reached my fashion pinnacle. Through time, trial and lots of pos-Halloween sales, my sense of style has evolved into the smug, bratty child of my two previous phases-my desire to please other people and my desire to dress in a way I enjoy. When I go home, my sister (who now wears almost no make-up and has become fond of sweatpants) gives my wardrobe the ultimate tribute-she asks to borrow everything in it. I take what some might sniff at as fashion risks. But, as my hair brightly demonstrates, I'm proud of what I wear.

Yet there is a flip side to my argument that dressing unconventionally is the way to go. A person (usually of the teenage persuasion) might dress as outlandish as possible, but only to get attention. That may be amusing for a while. Rebelling against conformity is extremely important, especially in our heavily advertising-oriented consumer society. But there comes a point where rebelling just to rebel against conformity becomes, ironically, enough conformist in and of itself.

Dress outlandishly if you want to. Dress conservatively if you want to. But keep an open mind about what you-as well as what other people-wear. Ask yourself, honestly and sincerely, "Why do I like this shirt? Why do I want to wear this skirt?" Being challenged to question your beliefs is one of the most difficult parts of college, but it can also be one of the most rewarding. Plus, once you've discovered your honest feelings towards something as charmingly superficial as fashion, you can begin to contemplate more substantial issues-politics, religion, the nature of existence and why your CD collection ultimately sucks.

So I send out the battle cry: Fashion Victims of the World, Unite! Remember that gorgeous emerald green shirt you loved in the store, but are scared to actually wear? Try it out with those royal blue plants for fun. What about that sweater your roommate loves that you can't stand? Give it to him or her once and for all. (Better yet, donate, all the clothes you no longer wear to charity.) Dress to impress yourself, not the Jordan Catalanos of the world.

And me? I'll be right there with you, leading the fashion revolution. But first I have to call my mom and ask her to ship the clownfish to Cambridge.

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