I recently saw a post on one of those semi-annoying-but-can’t-look-away meme account. The photo was of a group of girls getting ready in front of a big bathroom mirror, and they were all wearing practically identical iterations of the same thing: a denim skirt and a white tank top. The caption said, as if to be sarcastic, “Yeah, girls don’t all wear the same thing.”
Most of the time, I scroll, pause on a meme, view it for a moment and go about my day. But the image and message attached to this post left me puzzled, and even a bit defensive — which led me to ponder personal style in terms of how today’s college students express themselves through clothing in the digital age.
How do the aspirational posts we see on Instagram — as well as our personalized algorithms that somehow know what styles we enjoy (or want in our wardrobe) — shape our ideas of personal style? Also, is the idea of personal style still considered “personal” when so many of our style choices are (consciously or subconsciously) inspired by the images we see on our social media feeds?
For one thing, there’s more than meets the eye of that meme I described above. Users who commented on the post seemed quick to describe the way the group of girls were dressed as “basic” — an adjective that has taken on its own borderline-derogatory definition among my generation — but the idea of following trends or fads is nothing new.
In fact, I’d argue that humans are inherently “basic” when it comes to being followers in social situations and feeling comfortable in predictable environments with familiar people in a community in which we have a sense of belonging.
I think our style choices can be tied to this human desire to fit in with a community. Expressing ourselves in a way that’s familiar and likeable at the moment can bring about a sense of belonging (and, not to mention, the fashion industry essentially thrives on consumers who subscribe to the flow of trends).
Also, in our culture, where having a strong or unique personal brand seems to rank high on the importance scale in determining aspects of our career or future, there’s pressure for people in my generation to establish and express a distinct sense of style — while still maintaining a brand that’s… well, likeable.
Even though social media is, on one hand, a haven for diversity in how people express themselves — I think for college students, personal style is often tied to our environment and the social norms attached to our campus. There seems to be an unspoken rule that wearing anything but athleisure to class means you either have an interview or a group presentation, and veering too far from other style trends — for both men and women — can bring about social sanctions, or punishments (like being stigmatized) for going against the grain.
It’s not groundbreaking that some groups of people in the same cohort dress similarly to one another — but perhaps now that social media is an outlet for students to both document our own style philosophies and get inspired by others’ fashion choices, my generation is acutely aware of the trends that flood their Instagram feeds and which styles stand out from the pack. This makes for assumptive labels or generalizations like the one alluded to in the meme: “Yeah, girls all wear the same thing.”
In order to discover and celebrate our own personal style and those of the people around us, we would do well to step back from the comments and embrace whatever speaks to us — whether it’s “basic” or not.
Darcy Schild is a UF journalism senior. Her column appears on Wednesdays.