For my third year I studied abroad at the University of Illinois, three hours south of Chicago in the small campus town of Champaign-Urbana.
One of the first things that struck me – bar the hilarious ignorance people had towards British culture (I was asked if we had Mexican food in England and if I knew who Nicki Minaj was) – was the difference in how people dressed on campus in comparison to Nottingham. Students, you could say, took themselves a lot less seriously than in Nottingham. Laid back and comfy were the names of the game, with it being tough to spot someone without their sorority or fraternity letters emblazoned on them, or the (ever so slightly garish) school colours of bright orange and navy blue, which formed the basis of a majority of clothing.
Students, you could say, took themselves a lot less seriously than in Nottingham.
In terms of the guys, skinny trousers were seen as too effeminate and ‘try hard’- which made the English boys stick out like sore thumbs- so hoodies and baggy jeans were everywhere, not forgetting the wonderfully stereotypical backwards cap. It seemed important to uphold a careless and boyish attitude towards clothing, with an obvious favour for comfort over trend.
This idea, to a certain extent, was followed by the girls, who – much to my guilty conscience – always seemed to be dressed as if they were going to or coming back from the gym. In leggings, trainers and tank tops, it was a far cry from the fashion conscious Topshop princesses of University Park. Sperrys boat shoes were the staple item for sorority girls, making me feel pretty out of place in my high-tops.
People were not as able to create an individual identity for themselves
Huge backpacks were used by all, again pushing the preference for functionality over aesthetics, and often prompting questions from International students about what they carried around in them. This was especially strange as so often in lectures at Nottingham, people would just roll out of bed and head to uni with a piece of paper and a pen stuffed in their pocket.
Nights out were a shock too. There were no Crisis or Ocean equivalents, only bars, which meant going out was a far more informal affair than in Nottingham. I quickly learnt that heels and a dress were a no-go, as everyone seemed to just throw on an extra coat of mascara or a different t-shirt, down a can of horrendously cheap beer and leave their apartment. With no fake eyelashes or hot-pants I missed dressing up, but I negotiated campus nightlife in my ever reliant high waist leggings, Converse and MAC lippy.
Despite the advantages of having to put less effort into deciding what to wear every day, it seemed that as a result, people were not as able to create an individual identity for themselves and ended up a generic replica of everyone else in their fraternity or sorority.
Since being in America, it has struck me how eclectic British style is, and how important this is to our culture and status in the fashion world. In England it is assumed that each person has their own sense of identity and caters to it with what they wear. It could be because wherever we live in England, we are never far from a city which fuels our creative endeavours, whereas in America, the size of the country hinders its people through lack of a close-by cosmopolitan influence.
Despite the influence of blogs and online retail in making the world a far smaller place, I believe finding physical inspiration from different people’s styles in everyday life is irreplaceable and vital to the continuation of future trends.