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The Superfantastic Style of the College Student | Manolo for the Big Girl

The Superfantastic Style of the College Student

In a place where there is no man, strive to be a Man.
— The Talmud

Last week, in my post recommending a handsome sandal to new college students, we received the following comments:

[W]hile the being cool is not as important in college as it was in high school, fitting in still requires some buckling to social pressures, such as the wearing of shower shoes to class.

and

I can’t see students who Febreze their clothing in lieu of laundering wearing heels to class . . . . Sorry, come join us in the real world.

These comments made Francesca very sad. Not because of what it says about college women’s fashion choices, but because of what their fashion choices say about their attitude to college, and to themselves.

It is not so long ago that studying at a University was a privilege limited to wealthy men. Even when that privilege was extended, through the rise of the middle class, the establishment of public universities, and the concept of scholarships, to the not-as-wealthy, it was still limited to men for a long, long time. It was a hard battle that women fought just to be able to sit in the same classes as men, to gain the same opportunities and the same chances to expand one’s horizons and stimulate one’s intellect (or at least sit through the required statistics class which will allow one to finish one’s major and get the job or graduate school acceptance letter which one covets).

We are extremely lucky to live in an era and a society in which the poorest members can attend college if they work hard enough, and in which women, people of color, immigrants, religious minorities, and others to whom the doors of Academia were previously closed can now spend four precious years learning how to think, preparing for advanced careers, and catering to their curiosity about things like Art History and Sociology. Never have so many academic riches been available to so many.

Here are these bright young women. Not so long ago and not so far away, they would have been sent to work in factories. If they were lucky they would have been training in typing or shorthand and looking for husbands. Or perhaps, if they were wealthy, they would be newly married to the son of a wealthy neighbor, pretending to be interested in how many doilies they own or their troubles in finding good servants (anyone see Titanic?). Before that, at the age of 18 they would have already been married for a couple of years and mothers to one or two children.

Instead, they have the luxury of three or four years – YEARS—to study liberal arts or professional studies. They are engaged in a pursuit which not long ago was considered an outrageous waste of time, unless you were wealthy enough to have that time to waste (and were a white male). Now it is, yes, considered a necessity for a middle-class lifestyle. But it is still a privilege.

And how do we show our respect for the privilege of studying History and Chemistry and Political Science and Math? We wear flip-flops and pajama bottoms to class!

And the sartorial catastrophes are just the tippity tip of the greater one: that on many campuses, college has now become a time not of study and intellectual growth, but of binge drinking and sleeping late and perhaps the multiple partners of the meaningless sex, and the being happy with a C average! This is not superfantastic!

Ladies! You are now certified adults. You can vote. You can drive. You could get married, if you chose to – but for now you are putting that off to enrich your minds in academic pursuits. You are a grown, interesting, intelligent woman who is fascinated by the world. And you have much to contribute to it.

Don’t you think you should be wearing real shoes?

Look! You do not even have to spend a lot of money! Francesca knows that for the privilege of studying Environmental Studies or Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, you are living on pasta and doing work-study just to pay for your books.

So Francesca has found several items which you can wear on your adult, respectful, worthy-of-respect feets, which cost under $35 but are attractive and, at least, actual shoes.

Real wedge sandals!
The perfect shoe for the urban, non-hilly campus!

Oh-so-casual for the showing up at the cafeteria at 9:30 am for breakfast, then taking your books to the library, and leaving at 2:10 so you can get to Developmental Psychology at 2:25 at a nice pace, cool as a cucumber:
Comfy, casual and yet actual shoes

Tonight, after your student government meeting, you have a date! What can you slip on with your jeans to add some festive flair?
For the Froshie worth her weight in gold

And tomorrow, when you go to class, you want something fun and comfortable for standing in Chem lab, something “young” and yet 10,000 steps above the flipflops. Will it be these?
Feminine. Unlike flip flops.

Or these?
Professor Francesca says: You can be cheap and still be the superfantastic college student!

And there are more here, here, and here.

Of course you do not have to wear high-heeled sandals to look superfantastic! The idea is to wear the clothes which show respect for yourself, for your classmates, for your professor, for your education, for all the people who are financing your education, and for the society which has decided that you are now a grown-up. Do you wish to be seen as one? Does it matter that “everyone else” is wearing slippers and Febreezed sweatpants around campus? Do you not wish to be the superfantastic individual who wishes to remember, always, that she is a person of dignity and importance and deserves to appear so to the world? In a place where there is no man, do you not wish to strive to be a beautiful Woman?

Francesca believes in you!

35 Responses to “The Superfantastic Style of the College Student”

  1. Claire September 3, 2007 at 4:15 pm #

    Very inspiring! I’ve been making a conscious effort this semester to put some thought into my clothes and even put on a little bit of makeup every morning. It takes an extra five minutes, but it makes me feel 10x more confident–in my body and in my brain.

    Also, sort of off-topic, if you’re interested in the history of women’s college education, etc. check out “College Girls: Bluestockings, Sex Kittens, & Coeds, Then & Now” by Lynn Peril. It’s a fantastic and funny look at how far we’ve come.

  2. Meg September 3, 2007 at 4:20 pm #

    Amen!

  3. SpacePeep September 3, 2007 at 4:25 pm #

    Ayyyy! Flipflops in the Chem Lab? No no, a thousand times no, only the close-toed shoes in the Chem Lab. Preferably the old sneakers or other shoe which will not be sadly missed if the hydrochloric acid spills on it. But not the flip-flops, nor the superfantastic shoes!

  4. Krista Long September 3, 2007 at 4:26 pm #

    Thank you, Francesca! I now am the proud owner of those wedges, and have used Zappos for the first time for my WW feet, and LOVE them! Comfort is a must since my cheap parking spot is a good 3/4 of a mile from my classroom building.

  5. K September 3, 2007 at 4:31 pm #

    Amen, Francesca! As a graduate student in the humanities at a large state university, where one is expected to show one’s dedication to the humble life of a philosopher by wearing the rattiest shoes imaginable, I stand up for all that is good, decent, and worthy of respect. I wear my high-heeled brown patent leather Manolo Mary Janes to class with pride. And a pencil skirt.

  6. Francesca September 3, 2007 at 4:37 pm #

    Francesca says:

    SpacePeeps makes a good point. Francesca trusts though that the thrust of Francesca’s argument has not been lost.

    K will someday be the tenured Professor of the Humanities and Department Chair, while her ratty-shoe-wearing friends will be struggling to pay the bills on the Adjunct salary.

    xoxo

  7. Twistie September 3, 2007 at 5:03 pm #

    Hurrah for superfantastic flats! The Twistie, she is capable of falling off her heels when they are half an inch high, and thus lives in flats, but they must be awesome.

    They must also be extra-wide and allow for her obscenely high instep as well, but that’s a subject for another day.

  8. Adenike September 3, 2007 at 6:31 pm #

    Hurrah! Hurrah! I will pass this on to the younger sister who has just begun the college years. I will say the more concerning part was the drinking, partying, and meaningless sex with the multiple partners. ::shudders delicately:: One must consider the terrible things that can be passed along.

    As one who went to school in the northern climes, the wearing of shower shoes, flip flops, and pajama pants was not at all sensible, especially not in the middle of the winter.

    I will admit in my own college years, one did take advantage of the lower sartorial expectations, we will blame funding and the twenty-six credits a semester for the lack.

  9. JaneC September 3, 2007 at 7:06 pm #

    Adenike–in my experience, going to school in northern climes does not necessarily preclude wearing pajama pants to class, though with slippers rather than flip-flops. This is observation only; I wore corduroy trousers or a long skirt nearly my whole time as an undergrad. Even if a student prefers to go a little less dressy than I did and wear jeans, remember that it does not actually require more effort to reach for the argyle sweater rather than the logo t-shirt that is one size too large, and the cute loafers rather than the dirty tennis shoes that you wore for gym class all four years of high school.

    Also, if you are in a cold climate, see if you can get yourself a nice wool coat and a pretty scarf, so you don’t have to wear your school sweatshirt all the time.

    Remember these things and the exhortation of Francesca, even if it means you might sometimes be mistaken for a faculty member (this happened to me, and continues to happen, even though I am the youngest grad student in my department). Being mistaken for a faculty member does not mean they think you look old, it means they think you look important!

  10. Leah September 3, 2007 at 7:38 pm #

    THANK YOU!!
    As a college student and resident assistant, I can’t help notice a correlation between how you take care of yourself and how you take care of the rest of your life. If you chose binge drinking over finishing your take-home exam, the next day you (and your self-esteem and the esteem of everyone paying for your grand adventure) will most certainly look like it. Women who take care of themselves on the inside (and in their collegiate/professional life) tend to take care of themselves on the outside because they are free of the desire to feel invisible, which I’m sure many of us have felt too many times in the process of growing into who we are and want to be. When my residents come to me for advice, I remind them that this is a period of growth and change and transition in their lives, and I encourage them to make the decisions the person they want to become would make. I think the same applies to clothes–even if you do not feel like you are so superfantastic today, dressing the part can help inspire you to get there.

  11. Chaser September 3, 2007 at 8:31 pm #

    Heck, I might even be mistaken for a professor! And I am one!

    Seriously, those Easy Spirit Wedges–how cute are those? I once had a guy who showed up to class in boxers and let things all hang out. I wished he would have just put arsenic in my coffee, because I was dying a thousand painful deaths for the full 50-minute class period.

  12. CanadianChick September 3, 2007 at 9:16 pm #

    for those women (and men) who are studying in more practical career-oriented paths* what you wear to class can impact your future more than you realize…when you go for those first important job interviews after graduation, or set up those internships, you may end up using one or more of your professors as references – and they will be asked about more than just your grades. Looking neat and tidy will leave a much more favourable impression than showing up in pj pants and flipflops…

    * the CanadianChick has nothing against medieval french literature as a major, and hopes that it will help with pronunciation when said student is waiting tables at that lovely french bistro down the street

  13. Kimbely September 3, 2007 at 9:50 pm #

    GREAT post – you’ve nicely summarized something that has bugged me since I was an undergraduate. I never got the “social pressure” to look like a slob in class. I mean, yes, a certain absent-mindedness is fine in a college wardrobe, because you probably don’t have much money and are concentrating on classwork – but pajamas? No makeup? Dirty hair? Why would you spend your early 20’s looking as ugly as possible during the day? I just never got that. As a poor undergraduate and even poorer graduate student, I always did my hair, wore makeup, and dressed as nattily as possible (in an eccentric way). I never even wore sneakers or jeans to class. Heck, even the punks and goths around campus at least made some effort before they walked out the door.

    Your point about references from professors is a good one, too. Why would I write you a reference for graduate school if I’m not entirely sure that you know how to lace a shoe?

  14. Jen September 4, 2007 at 12:35 am #

    The other issue is just that there isn’t a lot of space in a dorm room. College students are forced to cram their wardrobe into these tiny closets, so they usually have dual purpose clothing for everything.

  15. Icy September 4, 2007 at 1:58 am #

    You say it!

  16. TNBelle September 4, 2007 at 5:26 am #

    I must say Jen makes an excellent point. There isn’t ever enough space for everything in a dorm room. Also, I’d like to point out that some colleges don’t allow shower shoes or pajama bottoms to class. Some of the colleges I looked at had very strict classroom dress codes. And more often than not, you’ll see college students dressed as if they were going to be working for the President himself, which some of them actually are. I understand that college is about learning. Trust me, I’m killing myself over a 4.0 at this very moment. But its also for learning about yourself. There’s no other time in your life when you can do that quite so well. So if you’ve been up the night before until 4 am writing a paper or discovering that Vodka and beer don’t mix and have an 8 am class, for heaven sake’s wear the shower shoes! Just don’t make it a habit.

  17. Helene of Troy September 4, 2007 at 10:21 am #

    Super Fantastic, 100%! I went from wearing a uniform right into college. And while a uniform was no longer required, I still continued to dress in way that I associated with school. Wearing formal clothes helps one focus and get into the learning, professional mindset.
    When I see young women OUT IN PUBLIC IN PAJAMAS I feel compelled to stare at them. I can’t tear my eyes away, its like watching a car wreck. Now, in addition to wearing them to class, they wear them to the grocery store and to the bank. Just last week I watched with horror as an otherwise-lovely young woman repeatedly hitched up her drawstring-waited, ducky-printed, flannel britches which were creeping with glee down her thong-clad backside. I’m sure the bank teller would have noticed, but he was too busy ogling her bosom, sagging as it was out of the matching tank top.
    At least she was matching.

  18. Brittany September 4, 2007 at 10:42 am #

    Where are these colleges where ladies where pajamas? Go to any university in the South and the only people you see in pajamas are people who were up all night writing 20 page papers and somehow just forgot to get dressed in order to deliver their papers. At my university if you didn’t have the mini-skirt, heels, and earrings of the month you were the lowest on the todem pole of cool.

    However, I’d like to stand up for the “bad” choices we make in college involving casual sex and drinking. I think there’s a time in one’s life to find themselves and test themselves. There’s a time when you have to just try things and see where you are and who you are. There is a time and a place for everything, and to be honest, college is the place for that type of behaviour. You’re spending four years of what can be qualified as being simply perfectly selfish and self-centered by spending thousands of dollars on simply furthering your own knowledge of the world around you. Hoorah! You have free gyms and free health care, your body is young and resilient. It’s the perfect time to find yourself and figure out that in fact, mixing tequila shots and an ice luge of vodka do not make you feel like you’re on top of the world or that having sex with that frat guy in the bathroom made you feel like a cheap whore. So many of us have to just simply dive in and figure out these things for ourselves, live life instead of taking what is honestly, very good advice from the people who have gone before us. Figure it out for ourselves.

  19. Gee September 4, 2007 at 11:24 am #

    Keep faith, darlin’; I wear my heels up all 143 steps. Or at the very least, some supercute flats.

  20. techne September 4, 2007 at 12:51 pm #

    I had almost no money in college and most of it went towards my phone bill (back in those days, 10 years ago, it was over $0.10 a minute). Nice shoes should be worn with nice clothes, and THAT’s where things start getting expensive. $30 shoes….a few pairs of even $15 pants and tops…you’re looking at 1.5 campus job paychecks just to outfit yourself for a week. You COULD launder every few days, but that’s another $3.00/load (again, in my day, god knows how much now), not to mention the time it takes, and you ARE there to learn and develop relationships with others, not to look superfabulous at breakfast and do laundry.

    I realize a lot has changed since my day, but I am sure that there are still students scraping to get by. And it’s not like I was paying rent or anything–I’m talking fancy liberal arts college where dorms for all 4 years was the preferable option. IMD one had to pay for music and keeping in touch with remote friends, now one must pay cell phone bills and for a computer etc. There must still be people like me, people whose parents could barely afford tuition for the fancy school much less subsidize an even sort of fabulous lifestyle.

    I DO agree that how one dresses shows how much respect one has for oneself and how organized one is. I think this post is appropriate in that it tries to give younger people an education about these very important aspects of being an adult woman, and it would have been nice to have this kind of talking-to in college. I remember feeling pretty upset that I couldn’t afford to have my outside match my inside, and I remember the outside having a big an effect on the inside and contributing to college-kid depression. I remember feeling better about myself when my laundry was done and my cutest clothes were clean and ready to go. But not ALL of ’em are dressing like slobs for peer pressure reasons.

  21. meimei September 4, 2007 at 1:50 pm #

    To Francesca: Bravo. What a great post.

    To the rest: If the superfantastic shoes demand the superfantastic clothes, then what, pray tell, constitutes the superfantastic fashion that’s appropriate for an institution of higher learning? Yes, it’s unfair to expect school uniforms at the college level – but again, I must speak about going to school in a tropical climate, where the young women think nothing about wearing tiny tank tops cut above the bellybutton and sweat pants with slogans written across their booty. I speak of this because I work at a campus bookstore where we recently received tiny, tiny shorts with the school name written you-know-where. They were supposed to be worn 1) as lounge wear, 2) at the gym or track, or 3) underneath the equally tiny skirts… and yet a few of the young women on campus have decided that this was an acceptable alternative to pants! (The young men, on the other hand, continue to mistake these shorts for underwear.)

    Anyhow, I myself didn’t dress well when I was an undergrad – there were days when I didn’t try at all, and days when I tried way too hard – but learning (and un-learning) my own style of acceptable fashion was part of my process of Figuring It All Out On My Own, and it took me years before I understood that being respectable and being comfortable didn’t have to be mutually exclusive. Now as a graduate student (and a soon-to-be-certified elementary teacher) I’m still doing my best to look pulled-together, knowing that my line of work will require wearing washable clothes and non-painful shoes. But if I ever find myself reaching for the flip flops, it’s still not the end of the world – there’s always another day.

  22. Handmaiden September 4, 2007 at 3:45 pm #

    “make the decisions the person [you] want to become would make”

    Great advice, Leah. I’ll have to remember that.

    And wonderful post, Francesca! I’m still trying to develop my own superfantasticness, and while I’m not quite completely there, I am much closer than I was when I started college full time four years ago (I just graduated). Sad to say, simply by wearing jeans, an ironed t-shirt, and lace-up sport shoes, I was better-dressed than a significant portion of my fellow students.

  23. Rachael September 4, 2007 at 7:19 pm #

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    I am a university student, at a conservative university dedicated to preparing us for (gasp!) the real world, with a (double gasp!) dress code. We are turned away from the library, the testing center, even the gym for turning up in pjs or sweats or even flipflops. We won’t be able to wear these things in our careers, why wear them now?

    And also, I think you can be superfantastic with a student’s budget. I pay my own tuition, my own rent, my own books, my cell phone, and my own food. I work 16 hours a week on campus (for $7/hour) and babysit for friends on some weekends, do my own cooking, am active in a church, and am incredibly busy. But I still dress nicely and neatly. I wear what fits and what looks good. Being superfantastic isn’t necesarily buying the newest, best, or most expensive. It means doing the best with what you have, being happy with who you are and where you’re going in life.

  24. Wry Exchange September 4, 2007 at 8:46 pm #

    Dearest Francesca, I didn’t mean to make you sad. My point was that heels are impractical many times for many people. I love superfantastic flats. I have lovely flats from Cole-Haan and London Sole as well as Havaiana flipflops. Today’s photos were wonderful-lots of choices. My apologies.

    My entire reply: Havaianas-best flip flops in the world. Really, I can’t see students who Febreze their clothing in lieu of laundering wearing heels to class. No way could someone tackle the hills at Penn State in those. Sorry, come join us in the real world.

  25. Angel September 4, 2007 at 8:55 pm #

    I find it a little scary that some of these college kids can’t even spell in their posts here. *sigh* Anyway, appearance is very important! You want your prof to give you an excellent recommendation so you should never go to class looking like a slob. It doesn’t matter what size you are, just dress in a casual, cute manner that suits your figure.

  26. La BellaDonna September 5, 2007 at 1:14 pm #

    Aaaeeeiieee. I remember going to a state school on a New Jersey mountaintop, cleverly designed so that it was uphill to the classes, AND uphill back to the dorms! Hills and, often, snow – but not once did I wear a flipflop or nightgear to class. I remember sometimes wearing a wedge heel (chocolate suede), and mostly wearing boots. I had a painfully small wardrobe, but always had makeup on, the nice boots, and grownup clothes between. I wasn’t dating anybody, it was just for me. One thing I do remember from those days, though: carefully writing down my observations in a notebook of the fabrics and styles and garments that seemed to suit both my shape and my personality best. The funny thing is, those painstaking observations made then still apply now! (There’s no point in being obsessive-compulsive unless you make it work for you.)

  27. Bobboff 5 September 5, 2007 at 1:27 pm #

    Francesca, may I join you on your soapbox? For the financially challenged, I have observed an ingenious solution. A Rising Young Lawyer, who is one of my all-time favorite people, filled out the gaps in his law-school wardrobe at thrift shops, where a discerning eye can spot a magnificent bargain from time to time. His Lovely Bride (another ATFP), who graduated from a different post-graduate school, made extensive use of a consignment shop during her tenure as a starving grad student. I have observed other students manage by way of remarkable sales, outlets, Target, generous relatives*, etc. When the funds do not match the sartorial ambitions, there are ways and means, until the budget expands to accommodate the taste.

    *one student made it known to his family, when asked, that his birthday would be brightened by wardrobe upgrades. His rising-star sister spent far more on a shopping spree than she would have for additions to his music or video collection, because she took satisfaction in knowing her gift would be worthwhile.

  28. Ninjarina September 6, 2007 at 6:25 am #

    See, the thing I don’t understand is WHY people think this is so hard. I went to school in UC Santa Cruz – as in the Santa Cruz mountains. I didn’t wear heels much but I ALWAYS wore decent shoes; even if they were flip flops, they were not ratty and they were most certainly NOT worn with boxer shorts. Why is it hard to wear FASHIONABLE sneakers like Pumas? Granted they are for people w/ narrow feet like me, there are stylish sneakers out there to be found. Why do people wear UGGs, which only serve to create cankles? What’s wrong with just wearing a classic chic fleece-lined moccasin instead? There are so many alternatives out there that there really should be no excuse for this type of flippant disregard for one’s feet.

    One caveat – anything goes during midterms and finals. I will forgive even the most egregious style (and in some cases, hygienic) sins when faced w/ 14 hour study periods with intermittent pizza breaks.

  29. tigg*e September 7, 2007 at 9:34 pm #

    I would just love to say thank you for this post! I am making an effort to stop wearing my hideous green flips flops after my Jazz class to my other classes. And wouldn’t you know, the first day I tried, a gentleman noticed me! Of course, we had known each other in high school and despite mutual crushes, were just friends. Who knows? Maybe the upgrade in footwear will bring us together!

  30. me September 8, 2007 at 5:58 pm #

    I know I’m going to get slammed by some of the other readers, but I need to mention that the first three shoes look a bit, well, too old for the average 18-20 year old. Even now, I would most likely take a pass on those types of sandals and go for something a bit more attractive and age-appropriate.
    The skimmers, however, are very youthful and charming. Unfortunately, the downside is that they may be too youthful for the college co-ed.

  31. caitlin September 10, 2007 at 4:28 pm #

    Agreed, me. That was my argument in the previous post. Really, also, who cares what kids are wearing to class? We should be thankful enough that they are going to class in the first place.

  32. behold our future September 10, 2007 at 10:46 pm #

    Caitlin, we cannot merely sit back and be thankful that the poor dears have decided to grace the halls with their presence today, because those that believe they are doing something praiseworthy simply by showing up are missing out on most of what they are supposed to be learning, and, frankly, are wasting their time. We do not need people who swan into the room on a cloud of entitlement, flabbergasted by the concept of actual work, whether you want to do it or not. We have plenty of those already. We need people of character, people who have developed respect for themselves and for others, people who understand what it means to truly contribute. And when we see people slouching into class in pajamas and sloppy flip flops, we know what category they fit into. That’s why it matters, and that’s why we care. Now grow up and put on some damn shoes.

  33. Cassy September 16, 2007 at 2:07 am #

    While I agree about dressing with care for college, I must whole-heartedly disagree with selected shoes. To my eyes they do not look particulalry age appropriate for an undergrad, and open-toed shoes are not the most practical (or professional) option for a lab. I would recommend the skimmers or some nice ballet flats. If you must wear heels, boots or a closed toe mary jane would be much better. Save the wedges and flippy sandals for the keggers and bar hopping.

  34. electronic cigarette safety November 2, 2010 at 1:48 pm #

    crayon-scribbling, color-clashing, type-bashing, bad .ai rendering, weak-cartooning chaos in many sites… I undoubtedly do not assume these are the most effective designs. I believe they reflect your taste. Your taste ‘right now’. These “styles” will likely be, “oh, that’s so-LAST-Month”