UNSPLASH / LALA AZIZLI (https://unsplash.com/photos/nzn1l3nHTnA)

It is 10am on a Sunday. A rare moment of stillness for Cambridge, before the hustle and bustle of tourists and bikes swarm the cobblestones of Sidney Street. Little does the unsuspecting Mainsbury’s across the street from my accommodation know, it’s about to become the catwalk for my finest fashion exploits of the day. Some would call it ‘avant-garde’, others, ‘a disaster’. I prefer to say it as it is: a pair of hot-pink Crocs, worn loud and proud with mismatched socks, running leggings, and the first jumper I scraped up off my floor that passed the ‘smell test’.

“My garish choice of footwear is not a white flag that signifies my defeat [...], it is my battle armour”

Before coming to Cambridge, I believed that I, as an English student, would always look my best, day in, day out. You scarcely need to look much further than the various Facebook memes and Varsity articles to see that it’s common knowledge that Sidgwick students have a knack for always looking fashionable and put-together. It’s something we pride ourselves on, setting us apart from our hoodie-wearing contemporaries at the Downing Site. My lectures are akin to the latest catwalk shows, with my peers parading their meticulously planned outfits: well-structured blazers, perfectly tailored midi skirts, an effortlessly floaty, boho-chic top picked out from a vintage shop, skinny scarves and Doc Martens abound. In fact, being at Sidgwick underdressed is far more likely to get you odd stares than being overdressed.

Yet here I was, a supposedly ‘fashionable’ English student, stood in the dairy aisle in a lurid pair of bubblegum pink Crocs. Had I let myself go? What was this madness? Was I finally admitting defeat?

It’s fair to say that the frequency with which my Crocs are worn on a Mainsbury’s run is directly correlated to my levels of stress. However, I would argue that my garish choice of footwear is not a white flag that signifies my defeat. Rather, it is my battle armour. In a place like Cambridge, where perfection is demanded in every facet of life, the act of dressing imperfectly seeks to remind me that imperfection is allowed, and indeed is a perpetual part of life. It is very telling that when we think of someone ‘letting themselves go’ we think of one’s abysmal fashion choices. But what exactly are we letting go of? Is it actually liberating to free ourselves from the shackles of constant expectations?

“In a place like Cambridge, [...] dressing imperfectly reminds me that imperfection is allowed”

That’s not to say I don’t usually delight in dressing up. My friends have always pointed out that I manage to turn up to 10am lectures looking co-ordinated, and people always point out my extensive midi skirt collection would apparently put Stevie Nicks to shame. Yet I believe that my entire self-worth and feelings of confidence should not be controlled by the expectation to look and be ‘perfect’ all the time.


Mountain View

An ode to sentimentality

I remember the stress I used to go through picking out outfits in sixth-form, believing that if I didn’t look my best 24/7, then I was a failure. The discomfort I felt at slightly odd-fitting jeans or an ugly top had the potential to stress me out for entire days, ruining the joy I could’ve had from just living in the moment. It was only once I arrived at university and found that hangovers and nice tops did not mix, that I was forced to accept, for the first time in my life, the concept of letting myself exist comfortably in the moment, regardless of what I was wearing. As the saying goes, clothes do not make the man, and if my happiness and feelings of self-worth hinge entirely upon whether my jumper matches my skirt, then is dressing up truly liberating, or is it just an added pressure to my already stressful life?

Today, as I strut the aisles searching for oat milk, I don’t feel the self-conscious shame that I would’ve felt a year ago. The way I dress should not be a sign of ‘letting myself go’, nor should this idea of constant ‘perfection’ be a perpetuated social norm. And with that, I will wear my very comfy hot pink Crocs with pride, fashion rules be damned.