Soon after I arrived on the UT-Austin campus, I saw a group of girls wearing striped Nike Tempo shorts, tennis shoes and oversized t-shirts. I thought they were part of a feminist organization rebelling against revealing miniskirts, cleavage-baring tops and high heels. Before coming to Austin, I’d lived in a town on the edge of the Black Forest in Germany, where most women wear jeans and an outdoor jacket in the evening and consider themselves down-to-earth and unpretentious for doing so. Going to class in a gym outfit, however, is a level of informality that German women haven’t reached yet. I was impressed by that group of girls who were, in my eyes, setting new standards for independent and unencumbered wardrobe choices.
But after seeing another group of girls in identical shorts, and then another and another, it dawned on me that this was a uniform for these girls — just like miniskirts, revealing tops and high heels are for others.
Both uniforms serve the same purpose: by wearing them, you identify yourself with a group. You don’t have to waste time or effort building your own identity. When I asked girls why they wear such sorority regalia, they all had more or less the same answer. A biology sophomore, who I’ll call L, said, “This outfit is cool and comfy, and I can give it a personal touch, like shoelaces in my favorite color.” An undeclared sophomore, who I’ll call C, agreed and added that wearing the same style as her sisters gave sorority members a feeling “of being close even when we are spread over the campus”. L said that she thought exactly the same thing. Or was it the other way around? Did C say it was cool and comfy and then L agree and add that it made her feel close to her sisters and then C say she thought the same? I really can’t remember; they looked so similar they were nearly interchangeable to me.
After hearing my peers’ opinions, I wanted to form my own, so I headed to Barton Creek Mall. To my surprise, there is not yet a specialty shop that sells these uniforms. An entrepreneur could make serious money selling piles of Nike shorts ($30 each) and matching shoes (at least $100 a pair.)
I finally located a sporting goods store with the uniform on offer. As soon as I stepped out of the changing room and looked in the mirror, I knew I looked good in my neon shorts and shoes with matching laces. I resolved to buy ten more sets of the uniform in exchange for my personality at the check-out counter. “What shall I wear today?” and “What shall I think today?” were two birds that I was about to kill with one stone. I would belong to an elite group of the coolest girls on campus.
Just joking. No question, the stuff was comfortable, but so were my off-brand-slightly-different sport shorts at home. To anyone out there who wears Nike shorts and oversized t-shirts for the mere comfort of it, keep doing so! But I doubt that very short shorts and a t-shirt are a comfortable outfit for all occasions. While I was sitting in a supermarket parking lot all night to get an Austin City Limits ticket, wearing jeans and a sweater, right behind me in the line was a group of girls equipped with dozens of blankets wearing shorts. I’d rather wear something warm than follow the herd instinct and freeze, but that’s everybody’s own decision. Or their group’s decision, if they’ve given up deciding for themselves.
Hardt is an English junior from Freiburg, Germany.