Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Being at university gave me the confidence to experiment with my style

University has been a time of rigorous self-discovery, to say the least. After spending seven years wearing a uniform and following dress codes, it was interesting to attend an institution where they are simply not obsessed with what you wear.

The thoughts running through my mind as I got dressed for my first lecture were ‘is this too informal?’, ‘do I look ready to learn?’, ‘am I overdressed?’. It’s safe to say that my sixth form had successfully indoctrinated me into thinking that learning isn’t possible unless you’re wearing business formal.

Adolescence in itself is a confusing time, and once I got to uni it seemed like everyone else had already figured out themselves and their style. On the verge of an identity crisis, I took to experimenting with my style more in the hopes of finally finding an ‘aesthetic’ that I fit into without looking ridiculous.

Style is forever evolving, often relying on whatever is trending at the moment

Many see university as an opportunity to reinvent themselves, to try something new and step out of their comfort zone. After all, you’re going to a place where pretty much no one knows who you are beforehand.

Unsurprisingly, I was no exception to that. Prior to university, I went through almost every aesthetic possible. I tried being alternative and ‘punk rock’ (which was really just me wearing black jeans and flannels and calling it a day), and I tried being a tomboy and a ‘girly girl’. The most terrible choice I made was definitely wearing those shirts that just said ‘Nerd’ and ‘Geek’ on them when I was in year seven and was allowed to go shopping on my own.

I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that style is forever evolving, often relying on whatever is trending at the moment. That being said, university allowed me to explore that side of myself a bit more. It also made me realise that my style is not rigid and mostly it just relied on how I was feeling that morning when I was getting ready.

Stepping outside of my comfort zone became my new comfort zone

Soon, I found myself leaping out of my comfort zone and wearing more colourful outfits which 14-year-old me would not be able to imagine doing at all. The best part of it was that I actually enjoyed the style that I was developing. Being in an environment where I was able to be wholly myself meant that I started buying and wearing items I enjoyed, rather than items I pressured myself into wearing for the sake of fitting into a fixed aesthetic that did not bring me joy.

I got my ears pierced which was a really big thing as I finally got over my fear of earrings being ripped out, and it was thanks to my friends at university who encouraged me to try something new even though I was terrified. Stepping outside of my comfort zone became my new comfort zone.

The most important thing I’ve learnt so far is to just wear whatever I want as long as I feel comfortable in it. No one is going to shame you or openly make fun of you for how you dress, because quite frankly, students have other things to focus on.

Next year I may look completely different from how I look now, and that’s okay

Trial and error is the best thing ever – it allows space for learning and we need to give ourselves more credit for the things we try, even if they don’t turn out so good. Getting over the anxiety of being judged is a whole journey in itself, an ongoing but necessary one. Hyping myself up in the mirror before stepping out of my room is a regular occurrence that I am in no way ashamed of.

Discovering yourself is a long and beautiful process. There isn’t a right or wrong time for it and quite frankly there is no real rush either. Everyone is learning something new about themselves every day, and over time things change and that is perfectly okay. I used to feel like a fraud whenever I outgrew an interest in something, or no longer wanted to look a certain way.

However, a way of combating this was to remind myself that each new interest and style was just to bring me one step closer to figuring out who I am. This doesn’t mean that we reach some sort of ultimate level completely polished version of ourselves. Rather that we are layered human beings that are subject to change and we should allow ourselves room for growth. University taught me a lot about myself, and to this day I’m still experimenting with style and I have my quarantine purchases to thank for that. Next year I may look completely different from how I look now, and that’s okay.

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