I still remember my first day of classes at Syracuse University as if it were yesterday. The night before classes started I could barely sleep. I couldn’t stop thinking about how my classes and classmates would be and what I would wear for that very first day. That last part was especially important to make a memorable first impression.
The morning arrived, and I still hadn’t made a decision on what to wear. Back home in Spain, where I attended high school, I was required to wear a uniform almost every year with the exception of my senior year. Coming here was a fresh challenge. I didn’t know what the fashion standards were or what was considered acceptable to wear to class, and it was a difficult transition. I kept going through my closet and as always, I couldn’t find that perfect outfit that would be simultaneously effortless and classroom-appropriate.
After a lot of thought, I settled on a midi-dress, not too long or too short, and a pair of sandals. At the time, I thought this was an appropriate look, considering the weather and what I thought would be classroom etiquette.
But when I arrived to my first class, reality hit me. With over two hundred seats and at least a hundred people, this auditorium was definitely the biggest classroom I had ever seen. I looked around as soon as I came in. I was shocked by what I saw.
I was looking at people wearing pajama pants, sweatpants, crop tops, shorts and other clothing that I would have never seen in a classroom back home. The first thing I thought was, “All this effort and thoughtfulness I put in my outfit was for nothing.”
I felt frustrated, perhaps even annoyed, because I kept following the standard dress code from back home in Spain— you could not come to school with any athletic or casual clothing; girls could only wear midi or maxi skirts or dresses. Shorts were allowed neither for boys nor for girls, and crop tops, ripped jeans or pants were banned in class. It was shocking to see people wearing clothes that would have broken every clothing rule in my high school. I couldn’t understand how students could go to class dressing as if they were staying at home.
Days passed and I kept seeing the same outfits all over campus: leggings, sweatpants and any other sort of comfortable clothing imaginable. The difference was noticeable; back home, people would judge someone wearing leggings or sweatpants and here, I was being judged for dressing up. The tables had turned and I was the one out of place.
After a week or so at college, I decided to ignore my European sense of fashion and abandon the high-school fashion standards I had abided to for so long. I got myself a few pairs of lululemon leggings, which everyone told me were the most comfortable pair. At the beginning, it was a challenge to wear these leggings as if they were normal pants, and besides, it was hard imagining them without sneakers or without sports clothes on top.
It was difficult to see myself going to class with this new style, that I wasn't used to and that was highly criticized back home. Getting dressed suddenly seemed like a lazier endeavor, and even though everyone wore leggings, I felt still that they were not appropriate for the classroom. In the end, wrestling all these thoughts, I gave them a try.
It dawned on me that for the first time, I felt like I was fully comfortable.
I didn’t have to worry about the wind blowing up my skirt or dress or marks being left on my leg from sitting on a chair. I could always dress the leggings and sweatpants up and make them comfy and stylish. Now, even when I travel back home, I wear leggings. I began to understand better why people love them and why I see them in everyday outfits — I could run to class if I needed to, without worrying about tripping in sandals or my skirt. Making a memorable impression suddenly became easier as my fashion adjusted to this more leisurely and comfort-driven standard.
And the best part? I stopped spending hours every morning thinking of what to wear.
Antonella Casciaro is a junior studying communication and rhetorical studies at Syracuse University.