As students roll out of bed and get ready for class, comfort is usually the only thought that goes into choosing an outfit. But for some, developing a distinct personal style is their way of establishing individuality.
“Conformity” is a word that tends to have a negative connotation assigned to it. But in reality, it’s a word that is good in moderation, according to social and personality psychology professor William Swann.
“Most of the conformity that happens in life isn’t particularly problematic,” Swann said. “It’s when you hate the sweater and wear it anyway, that’s when you lose personal agency.”
Swann said conformity is a part of life, like driving on the right side of the road. But when conformity becomes too invasive, it can inhibit a student’s ability to develop a sense of self. Political communications junior Malcom Thomas said that he considers his personal style to be “unorthodox.” He said his goal is not to conform to any norms that society has placed on him.
“If someone has that confidence, they can be unapologetically themselves,” Thomas said.
Giselle Villarreal, textiles and apparel design senior and president of the University Fashion Group at UT, said she believes it is hard for students to try and find their individuality in today’s world of social media.
“With blogging, right now, you could literally buy someone’s outfit from head to toe,” Villarreal said. “So many students are doing that instead of … branching out on their own.”
The line between conformity and inspiration can seem like a small one, but to Thomas, there is actually quite a big difference between the two.
“When you’re conforming you don’t really take into account how you’re presenting yourself,” Thomas said. “But when you’re inspired by something, it leads you to be innovative and make it your own.”
Thomas said Kanye West and Pharrell Williams inspire him because they aren’t afraid to be different, but that the weather is the deciding factor when he chooses an outfit.
“If it’s sunny, I’ll wear, like, overalls with no shirt and a wide brimmed hat,” Thomas said. “But if it’s cold, I’ll wear something like a peacoat or something more grungy and angsty.”
Thomas said if he had never conformed to styles in high school, he would never have realized he wanted to be different from his peers. He said he believes that college gave him the license to explore his options and become who he is today.
“Stop going with society norms of what they deem is masculine. You can still have a masculine vibe and wear women’s clothing,” Thomas said. “It’s all about the confidence.”
While many students feel that conformity is a negative thing, Swann said it is important to remember that conformity is an essential part of modern society. Students may find it difficult to not conform with social media constantly highlighting “outfits of the day.” Villarreal offers some advice for this dilemma: Let things like nature inspire you instead of using Instagram and other blog sites. For students trying to break the mold and find their personal style, Thomas said he encourages his peers to wear what makes them feel good.
“You create your own image,” Thomas said. “Wear it. Flaunt it. Own it.”