“I was so desperate to distance myself from my working-class roots that I ended up losing myself in the process”Natasha Sauvage

I look in the mirror and I don’t recognise the woman staring back. She is a fraud. I peel off the fur coat (faux fur, mind you), sheer top, rhinestoned lace gloves and I retreat into the shell of a painfully ugly pink jumper and cheap frumpy maroon sweats that I’ve owned for so long that the fabric is worn and pilling. I’m comfortable again. Existing in my natural state. But then I wake up. I ask myself how I can make myself feel good today. The answer is simple. Pretend to be someone else.

I peel off the simple clothes and step into my little fantasy world. It makes me feel like somebody. It makes me feel seen. But with each passing day, I feel this growing incongruence between the person I portray and the person I am. I’ve always cared for fashion, style, clothes — that in itself is nothing new. But leaning so hard into this ‘glam’ aesthetic of furs and lace and heels when I’d always been a leather, denim and waistcoat type of girl? I had to ask myself — who was I trying to impress and what was I trying to emulate?

“It still feels like I’m trespassing”

As an incoming fresher, I see Cambridge for the first time. Leaving the train station, I am wowed by how pretty it is as a city and how stylish its inhabitants are. I am miles away from the Primark chic and off-brand tracksuits of my hometown. Sitting on the bus, I look down at my yellow jumper and purple trousers. Colourful. But simple. Too simple.

In my first term, I am bright. Daring. A burning flame who burns just as bright as she did in her hometown.

In my second term, I start feeling as if I’m trying to squeeze past someone in a hallway. Trying not to brush against them lest they notice me. I make myself smaller. Unseen. It still feels like I’m trespassing. Any second, someone will grab me by the arm and say, “What the hell are you doing here?”

It was a question I had often asked myself. What the hell was I doing in Cambridge? The allure of this university had worn off after my first term. No longer did I brim with excitement at getting to mingle with fellow students — now, the focal point of my existence at this university was isolation. Isolation at a university where it felt like so many of my peers had money to throw away like it was nothing. I look back at my first year and it is characterised by one theme: money. More specifically, a lack of it. If I’d had a spare penny to buy peace of mind with, I would’ve done it in a heartbeat. But I didn’t. And so with every day I woke up, the agony of uncertainty and stress continued to tear away at my mind, my sleep, my very being.

“I was so desperate to distance myself from my working-class roots that I ended up losing myself in the process”

I refused to open the doors on my suffering. I’d pick myself off the ground after hours of inconsolable sobbing and throw on a polished, classy outfit before heading out for whatever social event I’d committed myself to that evening. It was miles away from how I dressed back home, and yet, it had turned into a compulsory uniform for me here. Without it, how was I to separate myself from the me that felt the financial strain of existing in Cambridge as a working-class student? How was I to celebrate the me that wanted to feel like she actually belonged here — even if only for a single evening? Walking around and feeling seen by those who complimented me was enough to make me feel at peace. But that peace was usurped by pure agony as each garment came off at the end of the evening and I stared in the mirror, eyes still reddened from my earlier crying fit. I was a fraud. I am a fraud.


Mountain View

Style and social class: Love me, love me not

A year has gone by. I am in the second term of my second year and I proudly embrace my working-class roots. It isn’t something for me to run from anymore. I no longer cancel events if I feel like I’m not ‘well-dressed enough’. I have come to the realisation that I had allowed fashion — which had once liberated me as a gender non-conforming woman — to confine me once again. This time to a narrow interpretation of what a Cambridge student should be. I was so desperate to distance myself from my working-class roots that I ended up losing myself in the process.

I stare at my reflection. She’s wearing a ‘skater boy’ knit hat, an oversized jumper and velvet trousers — all red. Monochromatic. Dozens of rings to the point of excess. And she’s got a massive smile on her face. “The masquerade is over,” she mouths.