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ISSUE 118 VOL 15 PUBLISHED 4/8/2005

Dress to impress

By Jennifer Hancock
Staff Writer

Friday, April 8, 2005

We learn early in life that fashion is an important aspect of attracting the opposite (or the same) sex. For example, at my youngest sister’s high school, there is nothing that titillates the senses of the heterosexual female population more than a 16 year old guy swimming in a pair of enormous pants. One day, when I picked up my sister from school, I watched just such a fine male specimen swagger proudly across the street in front of my car. I really should not say swagger, his walk was actually an awkward waddle. The boy’s belt was cinched tightly around his thighs, which kept his pants from falling down, but also greatly inhibited his range of motion. Another young man, lacking a belt, negotiated the problems caused by his baggy pants by simply holding them up “manually.” I cannot imagine that either option was very comfortable. In fact, I wonder if someday we’ll talk about baggy pants like we talk about corsets – both are impractical fashion decisions.

Both of the young men I mentioned were accompanied by a throng of adoring young women with interesting clothing choices of their own. In contrast to the boys, who were swathed in an excess of fabric, the girls were, well, lacking in the fabric department. Midriffs and legs went almost entirely uncovered. It seems that as the boys cover up more and more, the girls cover up less and less.

Particularly in the case of the girls, clothing decisions seemed to be based on a desire to appear attractive to the opposite sex. Of course, it is possible that some of the girls I saw wore next-to-nothing for themselves, because they enjoy being half-naked in public; I think it is more likely that they see their near-nudity as a sexual offering to men. It is certainly not a novel idea that high school women dress to impress the opposite sex. Yet it’s hard to say the same for young males’ baggy pants; it is difficult to identify their place in human courtship rituals or pinpoint their practical function. Such pants certainly do not expose male flesh so as to entice women. But maybe the illusion that they could drop to the ground at any moment excites women.

Or perhaps baggy pants are just another strange fashion trend; I am not one to oppose the latest fad. In second grade, I bought snap bracelets with the best of them. My neon-green-with-black-tiger stripes bracelet may even have won me a boyfriend or two. So, if a guy’s got to wear pants that threaten to fall down at any moment in order to get a date, who am I to oppose him?

At St. Olaf, it seems that we know quite well that college students haven’t fully let go of such ridiculous clothing trends. My recent run-in with the peculiarities of contemporary high school fashion led me to think about sex and fashion, particularly at St. Olaf. There are not many guys at St. Olaf with disturbingly baggy jeans, and most women dress more modestly than the girls at my sister’s high school. Despite the relative absence of over-the-top fashion choices like eye-catching, itty-bitty skirts, the campus culture places a lot of pressure on male and female students to dress well for the sake of attracting the opposite sex.

Especially in the case of women on campus, I see the fashion consciousness of students to be a result of the state of sex, romance and dating here at Olaf. Women are constantly aware that there is a shortage of men, so if they want to nab a boyfriend or even a date, they feel that they cannot afford a lapse in their fashion or beauty regimen. On other campuses, baseball caps over greasy unwashed hair are a staple, and sweatpants constitute a major part of the student wardrobe; not here. Even though St. Olaf men have excellent odds of success if they are looking for love, they too seem to pay more attention to fashion than men on other campuses. All of us have to deal with the fact that a date is a hard thing to come by here at St. Olaf, and many of us do so by trying to attract others with our impeccable dress.

And what does “well-dressed” mean on the Hill? In my opinion, female and male fashion on campus tends to be rather conservative by virtue of the fact that we are dressing for the benefit of others and not ourselves. Fashion here is of the cautious J. Crew variety, rather than the daring, swan-wearing Bjork variety. If we are going to take up such a shallow course as fashion, we should at least be more creative about it.

Today, I heard someone instruct a friend to look good for her own well-being and consider her attractiveness to men a welcome but unintended effect. This is a simple, oft-heard piece of good advice, and I am of the belief that St. Olaf students would look very different if they followed it.

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