Caught between a dress and the new distressed denim jacket I bought, I'm constantly struggling with how to find a style that best represents me. During quarantine, I've been sticking to comfortable sweatpants, hoodies, and fuzzy slippers. But when I do occasionally go out to grab groceries or support local restaurants, I find myself reaching for chic boots, casual dresses, and faux fur coats. I dress up more than I used to because it gives me a confidence boost.
I interviewed a few Penn undergraduates with a knack for fashion about how they've found confidence through their clothes, despite quarantine canceling many fashion–worthy occasions. Regardless of whether you've adopted a sweat suit uniform, or you're wearing ball gowns to the grocery store, you're sure to find some nuggets of wisdom from these fashion–forward students.
Christina Irmen (C '21)
Fifties style dresses are something that makes me feel confident. I think they're so fun and classy with full skirts. For a while, though, I was apprehensive about what I love. I used to get a lot of weird looks on the street. People tend to assume that when you're not dressing [in] a way that's typical, that it can be over the top, even if I personally think my outfit is okay. So I see people give me looks, and many ask me questions like, "Where are you going dressed like that?" But as time went on, I began to focus less on that and more on the positive aspects. Because when you stand out like that, you also get more compliments from random people because they also recognize that you're different.
I think clothes are one of the only ways in which we are immediately projecting something to the world. We are telling a story to people. So this plays the biggest role to me in confidence, as I am very introverted and not very vocal. I'm not going to talk to strangers, but I am giving a clear message to people by what I'm wearing that says who I am and [the] things that I like, without me having to actually tell them. This then sometimes sparks a conversation if they want to reach out to me because I am probably not going to be able to initiate any conversations. My style reassures me that I'm still putting something about myself out to the world without actually saying, "This is who I am," and I think there is a lot of power in others knowing who you are as an individual without you having to say it.
Annie Ma (C '23)
I'm a big proponent of a dramatic coat. I think they make me feel very confident, and I like thrifting them. I love fashion pieces that give a sense of drama. My fashion is fairly informed by the books and movies that I like—especially books—so I tend to get fashion pieces that are inspired by the literature that I enjoy. I find coats [are] a really easy way to do that. I think there's an escapist kind of element to wearing them. I just like walking down the street and having the coat billowing. So I definitely like long tailored coats with lots of detail and craftsmanship. Kind of like the dark academia vibe, which I've been going for for a while. Coats have that sort of timeless quality, and there's a lot of character.
I have a skin disease called vitiligo, which is very much a cosmetic thing, where my melanin cells pretty much get attacked by my immune system. So I have white patches on my skin, but I only have it on one leg. But when I was younger—I developed this when I was in middle school—it was really, really tough for me in terms of body image. I think fashion was my number one way I decided to cope with that—by being able to dress well and take pride in how I wore clothes, and just very much like how I looked on a daily basis. Being able to put effort into that made me more confident in how I look. I think it helped me a lot with self–love.
Caroline Chin (C '22)
I feel like my sense of fashion has changed because I'm not leaving my house, so I'm mainly wearing loungewear. But I've noticed that my style has been changing to also be more like the ones you see on TikTok with Jean Paul [Gaultier]. I've also been buying fewer clothes than usual. I've always been more conscious of my clothing consumption, so I'm not really into fast fashion.
For my personal style, I am definitely into corset tops. I have been buying more of those really big pants, like Dickies, and they're really cheap and very straight. I've also been really into a mix of super baggy clothing. I feel like the more I dress like a boy, the more confident I am. Especially with baggy clothes becoming more of a trend nowadays, I feel that now, more than ever, I'm much more confident. I think fashion definitely plays a role in confidence too. When I wear what I like, that day I feel better. I can even notice a difference in my attitude.
Tara Mehta (W, C '21)
In my personal life, I am quite risk averse. But what I love about fashion, and also makeup, and hair, and just getting ready is that I can take risks and try something new every day. And then when I come home, I can just take it all off. Every day I can put on whatever I want. No one else can tell me what I can put on or have expectations on what I need to wear. It is very open ended, and there are no limits when it comes to clothing.
It's so personal that I think once you find something that makes you feel good—maybe a piece of clothing that makes you feel like you are expressing yourself the way you want to—it is a very powerful feeling, and that can instill confidence in you. I dress up because it makes me feel good, confident, motivated, and ready to tackle the day. I will take any excuse to dress up. With quarantine, I feel like I can take more risks in what I'm wearing because no one will see me. It's more liberating because no one can say anything, and I'm just having fun.
My biggest piece of advice is to not fall prey to trends that come and go. Sure, it's fun to play into them and buy a new piece sometimes because it's trendy. But I found that—because I find my fashion to be so closely tied to who I am—your sense of self will get lost if you're constantly dressing up to be like someone else, or try to dress based on what other people or society think is trendy right now. Find a style, or source of inspiration, or piece of clothing that makes you feel good, and own it. If you wear what makes you feel good, you will look good.
Our personal style can influence how we feel about ourselves in deep ways. Rocking an intricately bejeweled skirt or color–coordinating shoes and layers are ways of showing the world who we are. Quarantine is a good opportunity to reflect on the self you want to show the world. The fact that these students wear what they want—regardless of what others have to say about it—should be a sign to all of us to start wearing the things that make us happy, even if we're the only ones who get to see them.