I wore a tie last Tuesday. 

There wasn’t really a reason: no event or occasion I was dressing up for. As much as the clothes we select tend not to reflect hours of contemplation (I, for one, usually just grab the shirt closest to the front of the drawer) the tie did have some meaning to me. I wore ties almost every day in high school. Besides outing me as a dork to everyone I say that sentence to, that fact also speaks to something interesting about the nature of clothes in general and within the context of that odd linoleum tiled purgatory we call high school specifically. 

We dress in patterns: brands, styles, trends. Even those who dismiss such things as frivolous take part: the line between sweatpants worn in the name of comfort and in the name of normcore is so thin as to not really be worth considering. Like it or not, fashion is a game we all play. So what are our strategies? And what do they say about us? I boarded the C1 to find out.

The first pattern I discovered concerned jackets: Patagonia, the North Face, those puffy heat insulating numbers that make you look like one of the Michelin man’s grandchildren. It seemed like every high school had a brand; loyalty to it was unwavering. There didn’t seem to be a first mover, a trendsetter: everyone I talked to seemed to shrug off the question. It was common knowledge that no one person had started wearing whatever sartorial trend united the school, instead, through that strange common social assent seemingly unique to high schools, it was as if everyone had simply shown up one day fully trended out. To some, this reeks unpleasantly of conformity and groupthink. But universally, the people partaking in these trends found them comforting, not oppressing. To some degree, inclusion implies exclusion, and a common jacket can bring people together. So it goes.

But there was also a counterpattern: subcultures. This was especially prevalent at the larger public high schools. At places like these, there tended to be some overall pattern of dress, with a vocal minority choosing a competing aesthetic. Sometimes these were fairly standard, like all the debate kids dressing nicely, and sometimes they were downright weird: one girl told me that all the theater-affiliated people at her high school in rural Wisconsin dressed collectively and uniformly in purple. When you asked why, they would reply matter-of-factly that purple was the only color that didn’t lie. It’s easy to be skeptical of this response to conformity. Taking refuge from overwhelming sameness by constructing a more specific sameness seems like a flawed approach. This irony is especially apparent with subcultures that have an anti-institutional bent: the goth and punk movements are archetypical. Black torn jeans, leather jackets, gauge earrings: all worn in the name of glass rebellions that are fun to watch but ultimately transparent. To some extent, dressing all in black is now mainstream enough that it is comparable to holding up a sign that reads “all my similarly dressed friends and I hate people who dress similarly.” But hey, maybe that’s what you’re into.

By and large, the people I polled on the C1 described their high school peers as falling fairly cleanly into one of these two categories, with one exception. A talkative junior told me that at his school, there was one kid who wore a clown suit to class. And not just occasionally either: the guy would show up to class every day at seven AM sharp in full ronald mcdonald regalia. This was incredible to me. Here was a true rebel. He did not confirm, nor did he loudly declare his nonconformity. He was the spirit of iconoclasm.

All three of the strategies are fundamentally and interestingly artistic: they each address their audience in a different ways. I think there’s a beauty to that idea, to the fact that we all get up every day and dress in colors that convey meanings to onlookers. From Patagonia to clown suits, we’re all saying something to each other. That’s worth paying attention to. 

Mihir Bellamkonda is a Trinity first-year. His column, "small questions," runs on alternate Tuesdays.