Style isn’t as simple across the pond: Differences in college fashion culture

Fashion is universally known as the gateway to the heavens of creativity. Every culture, nation and city has its own spin on what is considered “stylish.” The casual comfort Americans prioritize in fashion vastly contrasts the elegant class displayed in European outfit choices. 

In particular, Europeans and Americans each claim superiority in style. Since I started studying abroad in London this past semester, I’ve found the real place where fashion matters: on their university campuses.

Since the rise of the fashion industry in the 19th century, Europeans are credited as the creators of a multitude of luxury brands such as Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Gucci and Prada. Their reputation embodies sophistication and elegance, no matter where their destination is. Many European universities and student common areas are filled with blazers, sweaters, trousers and a plethora of accessories to complete each look. Europeans take their outfit choices seriously, and first impressions matter most. 

In the United Kingdom, the way people dress often has to do with the British class system. Inherited and generational wealth is a sign of social status and often comes with many perks, such as a cultivated wardrobe. Furthermore, it’s uncommon to see many British students on campus stand out with their outfit choices, as most don’t enjoy standing out in crowds. However, in areas such as Camden Town or Brick Lane — where vintage sourcing, punk rock and street art are abundant — campuses are often filled with funky outfit choices, colored hair and chunky jewelry. These areas have been my most frequented since I landed in the UK due to their variety of people, fashion and food. There is so much life in these two neighborhoods, and I am constantly inspired by the culture surrounding them. 

American students highly value statement pieces and embrace fashion as a concept that enhances individuality. Those with outlandish fashion choices are seen as “cool” and are stylistically held in high regard. In Europe, people who wear such clothing are often outcasts and looked down upon. The stereotype that Americans are seen as “loud and obnoxious” often comes from their bold outfit choices, and it harms their perception while in common areas like the tube in London or restaurants in downtown Paris. On the other hand, while walking down State Street at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, you’ll find most people wearing sweats and athleisure, especially in cold weather. 

However, the few who show up to class in flowy skirts, fuzzy hats, sparkly tops and every piece of jewelry they own are the ones who tend to get the most compliments on their outfits. The effort they put into their appearance despite the temperature are the ones who deservedly get noticed. 

In contrast, European women will wear skirts, tights and trousers to class no matter what the weather is outside, and the men never miss a chance to pull out their Sherlock Holmes trench coats and caps. As an American, this is intriguing because they don’t see anything special about dressing up for something as normal as a morning class. It’s simply a part of their culture. 

The differences in fashion choices can be attributed to the cultural differences between the two regions. In line with their ability to blend in, Europeans dress simply but elegantly to avoid drawing unwanted attention. It is important to note many American college students who study abroad tend to add timeless pieces to their wardrobe to blend in with the Europeans. Anything from black skirts, trench coats and thick scarves are staples in a second-semester junior’s suitcase before their flight. I would argue that blending in allows Americans to fully immerse themselves in the country they are studying in. 

Although Europeans still wear basic and timeless pieces, integration with popularized American trends has brought an entirely new twist. This enhanced style allows Europeans to embrace a familiar aesthetic while introducing more comfortable clothing. Swedish fashion icon and influencer Matilda Djerf can be credited with trending this type of style. Both American and European college women frequent her sustainable clothing brand, Djerf Avenue, which reflects the integration of both styles.

Although Americans value comfort within their style, that does not mean they are limited to athleisure. Many people follow fashion trends beyond the realm of anything remotely comfortable. Unlike in Europe, there is no societal norm about dressing up or down. Fashion inspiration can be taken by anyone from Bella Hadid to Tyler, the Creator. Rapid American fashion trends tend to reflect the ever-changing nature of the country and its desire to live outside of the box. That’s unlike the United Kingdom, a nation rooted in its norms and behaviors. 

The best part about fashion is that it’s unique, creative and fully up to each individual who chooses to embrace it. Fashion doesn’t necessarily need labels or to be put into categories divided by different cultures. It should be audacious and valiant. At the end of the day, a person should wear an outfit because they feel good about themselves, regardless of the norm. 

Hana Razvi is a staff writer and a junior studying journalism and strategic communication. Do you agree that there are major fashion differences abroad? Send all comments to [email protected]

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