Colorful Fashion? Not At Brown


Growing up in the shadow of Brown University has some definitive advantages. For example, I was always aware of what ironic-message T-shirt was about to burst upon the waiting market well before it was released in stores. I got to see shirtless people jogging. And I knew what pot smelled like before I was 11.

However, despite the fact that I went to high school directly across the street from some Brown tennis courts, I didn’t really investigate Brown culture until a couple of weeks ago.

It was then that yours truly attended a dank party in an eerie house, in order to anthropologically investigate the fashion of Brown University. I did it for you, gentle reader. It’s always valuable to keep track of the fashion trends at other universities—doing so makes us aware of how woefully behind we are on all sartorial issues.

It wasn’t very hard to find a party at Brown. Unlike at Harvard, where hunting for a party involves Edith Wharton-esque social climbing and tolerance of complete female subjugation, parties at Brown seem readily available and devoid of humiliating questioning about one’s pedigree.

I found a party in a dilapidated Victorian building where obscure rap was blaring from every available window. A bunch of kids were assembled outside, smoking what seemed to be expensive European cigarettes. One guy eventually approached my posse, to ask for a light.

“So how do you like fuckin’ Harvard?” he asked me after finding out where I studied. He took a long drag out his cigarette and ran his dirty fingernails though his mane of unkempt curls—all in one smooth motion.

I realized suddenly that the man was wearing Converse sneakers, skinny jeans that barely encased his rotund thighs, a “vintage” flannel shirt, and a fedora. It was an ironic hipster combination which would terrify any Harvard male. I decided I liked this individual.

Suddenly a woman sauntered by us. She was wearing high-waisted white satin shorts over black leggings. She was sporting a vintage black leotard and Chanel flats. She even had side-swept bangs. I decided I liked her even more.

“This place is awesome,” I yelled to my friends as they dutifully followed me into the party. “What charming bohemians these students are! What fashion mavens!”

When I got into the party, however, I was shocked.

Every single man was wearing skinny jeans. Fedoras were as frequent as typhoid in an early colonial settlement. And all of the girls sported side-swept bangs and vintage leotards.

I looked around in astonishment and wondered what crisis was about to take place. Perhaps all the women would realize that they have the same dress on and start fighting each other.

But no one seemed to notice that they were identical to anyone else. Instead, people seemed to think they were startling individuals.

To wit: “What did you do this summer, man?” said one chap in a fedora to another.

“I worked at a record company and I did some art. It was sick. What did you do, man?”

“I did banking, man. But man, that shit is soulless.”

“I know, man,” his conversation partner replied.

This process seemed to go on for hours and hours. Identical looking people would come up to me, swill cheap wine and smoke in my face. Then they would talk about how soulless investment banking is, as if no one since Engels had ever had that conversation.

When the party seemed to be winding down into a discussion of obscure bands, I lunged out the door.

Later, as I mulled it all over, I realized there is something admirable about the insouciant hope with which Brown University students approach life.

As Harvard students, we are consistently and immediately told that we are not special, or particularly interesting enough to pull off a headscarf. We turn to investment banking because we are confronted with the cold truth that unless your last name is Castraghi you can never be a part-time gallery owner.

Perhaps because Brown conducts so many classes pass/fail, or because there is no core curriculum, or because “Interpersonal Communication” is a class for credit, students can preserve the hope that they will each be bohemian individuals who can use irony to revolutionize economic theory. It doesn’t matter if they dress alike; at least they have the confidence to think they’re different.


1) Smoke Gauloises, as U.S. cigarettes are a bit too healthy, what with the filters and all.

2) Have bi-coastal parents who are minor movie stars.

3) Buy a fedora.

—Staff writer Rebecca M. Harrington can be reached at