The first thing I noticed when I toured Ole Miss my senior year of high school was the humidity. The second was fashion. While I’ve gotten used to the humidity in my three years at the flagship, campus fashion and the culture which surrounds it still perplex me. I have come to recognize, however, that fashion at Ole Miss is more than just clothing: It is a manifestation of our larger culture of conformity.
Before moving to Mississippi, I had never heard of “Golden Gooses” or Hinton & Hinton button-downs. Imagine my surprise, then, when I finally googled these items and found that they sell for $300 and $100, respectively. What I find most astounding, though, is not the prices that students are willing to pay for casual everyday wear, but how seemingly everyone on campus owns the exact. same. wardrobe. I do not mean to criticize this apparently universal sense of style — if you know me, it is overly abundant that I am not qualified to critique anyone’s fashion choices. I am merely pointing out the almost overwhelming popularity of certain brands and styles. What is deemed fashionable and stylish at our university has much more to do with the name and the price on the tag than anything else.
Conformity, in regards to fashion, is neither inherently bad nor unique to Ole Miss. It becomes problematic, however, when clothing becomes social currency. The inaccessible brands mentioned above are by no means outliers in price compared with other clothes regularly seen on campus. When looking expensive is the ultimate goal, we create a pointedly class-oriented construction of social status. Just think about the people you saw campaigning in front of the Student Union a few weeks ago for personality elections to see how conforming to a specific style can help you get ahead at Ole Miss. If students need the “right” clothes to run for ASB, get into Greek life or run for Homecoming Court, perhaps we need to rethink our criteria. If the “right” clothes cost hundreds of dollars each, we’ve further isolated people from the “Ole Miss family” we so frequently emphasize.
Fashion can serve as an essential mode of self-expression. It can also be an exclusionary force that separates the “us” from the “other.” There is a more nuanced conversation to be had about how Ole Miss campus culture seems to encourage homogeneity and conformity on a multitude of levels. There are broader and darker implications of displays of wealth and privilege on our campus. I have neither the wisdom nor word count to write about that here. What I can do, however, is encourage you to look around next time you’re walking to class and count all the brand names being sported in your immediate field of vision. I bet the number will surprise you.
Katherine Broten is a junior majoring in economics and public policy leadership from Farmington, NM.