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Pressure to Dress

Girls wear micro-minis, expensive cowboy boots, premium denim and four-inch stilettos to their nine a.m. classes. Boys sport designer shades, exclusive sneakers, and the highest-fashion tees, polos, and button-ups at the cafeteria. Everyone’s hair is impeccably done, their outfits accessorized to perfection.

It’s the norm at many HBCUs, particularly Howard University, ranked the second most fashionable college in the U.S. by Women’s World Daily in 2003 issue, only second behind New York University. Howard students were also featured in a fashion spread for Seventeen magazine about trend-setting universities in the same year.

Looking around the campus, you can see students decked out in styles from A Bathing Ape, LRG, Lacoste, Citizens of Humanity, French Connection and Bebe, just to name a few.

However, being fashionable carries a hefty price. Designer clothing, shoes and accessories are not cheap, and college students aren’t known for their disposable income.

Popular premium denim brands such as Joe’s Jeans, Seven for All Mankind, Salt, and Rock & Republic run about $145 at the very cheapest, but can cost as much as $325. A new biology book can cost less than a pair of jeans.

"I definitely agree that there is a standard set here at Howard as far as clothing goes," said Katherine Jackson, a senior psychology major at Howard. Jackson said she uses credit cards to pay for her clothing. She says there are certainly expectations of attire on campus.

Jackson said it’s easy to feel silly when you don’t fall in like with clothing expectations.

"I can recall once just throwing on a big T-shirt and jeans and going to class. Everyone kept asking me if I was sick," Jackson said.

Jackson wears Diesel jeans, Christian Dior sunglasses, Lacoste polo’s, and Coach shoes. She makes sure that she has a job each semester so that she can keep up with all the hottest trends on campus. She has held jobs at Express, Arden B., and is currently employed at Lacoste in Georgetown, Washington, DC. She works anywhere from 12 to 30 hours per week to cover her fashion habit and other expenses.

Brian Jackson, a senior broadcast major, said there are ways around the heavy price tags that normally accompany the hottest trends.

"I personally only buy things that are on sale, and thrift stores are the greatest," Jackson said.

Fashion rules change when black students are a minority on campus. At the University of Miami, black students make up nine percent of the student population.

"There is no pressure to dress a certain way at UM," said Jazmane Morgan, a senior broadcast journalism at Miami. "Half the time, it’s too hot to even put on clothes. I can be comfortable going to class in a tee shirt and cheerleading shorts."

Morgan said that dressing to impress is more of an exception than the rule. "Yeah, we like to dress up at times, but the main clothing attire is jeans, some kind of top, and ALWAYS have a pair of flip flops."

Angelin Miller, a senior international affairs major at Florida State agreed. Twelve percent of the students at Florida State are black.

"There are basically two types of people at FSU," Miller said. "Those who care what other people think, and those who don’t. Because the campus atmosphere is so laid-back, there is not a great deal of pressure to be fashionable."

"Only certain students go out of their way to be fashionable, especially the fashion and design majors, who dress to impress," Miller continued.

Jackson thinks that students, especially women on campus, can go overboard with following trends.

"I think you should always be presentable, but there’s no need to overdress on a random Tuesday," Jackson said. He thinks that women face more pressure than men to make an impression with their outfits when they outnumber male students.

"It’s better to just be yourself," Jackson said.