An American Student's Experience of St. Andrews Fashion
As an American who went to prep school in the Northeast, my first experience at St. Andrews was typically full of culture shocks. One of the differences that stood out the most was fashion, not only how people dress, but also the culture surrounding style.
I remember going to Trader Joe’s back home over break in South Florida around midday and seeing most of the women there rocking their Lululemon biker shorts and sneakers. They all looked like they were just coming out of a workout – a lot of them probably were – and the contrast between this and fashion here in Scotland still shocks me.
Similarly, my prep school was one of the few that had absolutely no dress code. So people would often show up to class as if they had quite literally just rolled out of bed – again, a lot of them probably did… College sweatshirts and sweatpants, leggings, and mostly comfy clothes were the go-to style. This was usually paired with the iconic North Face backpacks, a brand which rules American high schools. I quickly realized last year that sporting mine would be a clear ‘tell-all’ on my nationality.
During my first few weeks in St Andrews, I immediately noticed a few fashion statements that I had never before seen on people my age. Blazers, coats, and dressing an off-brand business casual seemed to be an important part of the culture. Meanwhile, I was still rocking my windbreaker and Uniqlo jacket on the daily. While comfortable and warm options, I definitely felt a little out of place. I began to realize that people often opted for the classier and more put together options, even if they didn’t have any huge plans for the day. I’m a big believer in ‘look good, feel good,’ and I was happy to see that people put effort into their outfits and fashion choices.
Two trends stood out to me over the course of last year and the beginning of this year.
First, trench (or over) coats: While the name isn’t super appealing, this trend is literally everywhere – and I’m definitely a victim! Trench coats were first worn by soldiers during the First World War, where the piece got its name; however, the invention is credited to Thomas Burberry, who first developed the coat in the 1850s’. It was seen on Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Meryl Streep in Kramer vs Kramer, becoming a symbol of intelligence and class.
Next up: scarves! The last time I wore a scarf before I came here was probably when I was a little child, and I did not think I would be wearing one anytime soon. People wear scarfs almost more than they wear jackets here. From big chunky ones to super thin patterned ones, there’s a little bit of everything. They add a little ‘spice’ to any outfit, and also extra warmth if they’re chunkier. I often see people wrapping them around their heads as a shield from a rainy Scottish day. Most of these can be found in charity shops for very low prices, making it an affordable trend which hopefully lasts!
The next culture shock I experienced was a quintessential St Andrews experience, attending one of the various balls, whether it be Welly, Opening Ball, or the Masquerade Ball. Going to a ‘ball’ and wearing a long dress and heels is unheard of in the States, and it’s always entertaining when I tell my friends back home that my weekend plans are going to a black tie event. While tickets aren’t super affordable, it is a fun way to come together as a school community once in a while and rock your most formal attire.
However this wasn’t the only aspect of fashion at St Andrews that surprised me. It almost seemed like it was the reverse of American dress culture, where, during the day, minimal effort is put in, and when it’s time to go out on the town the extravagant looks come out. ‘Going out’ clothes in American colleges are a very big part of their culture, but here people will go to house parties in sweaters and baggy clothes. I noticed early on at the beginning of my first year that people put a lot less effort into what they were wearing ‘out’ compared to what they were wearing during the day. Personally, I’ve really enjoyed this aspect of style as I can wear whatever I’d like on a night out and I won’t really ever feel judged by others.
In fact, I’ve always preferred to look more put together for class, and have always appreciated when others are as well. This was rarely the case back in the US, but it seems important to the students of St Andrews. Being dressed well – and less comfortably than the clothes you slept in – helps put you in the right mindset to be productive.
But this isn’t to say that St Andrews is discriminatory in its fashion sense and the ‘norms’ surrounding it. On the contrary, I think that the importance of fashion and developing your personal style influences students to fully express themselves through what they are wearing, which is largely influenced by the fashion show culture. With five different fashion shows, Don’t Walk, FS, VS, Catwalk and Sitara, St Andrews students display a variety of different trends and cultures on and off the runway. The importance and attention students give to fashion shows almost incentivizes “looking fashionable”.
St Andrews’ international environment and unique social scene give special attention to clothes and dressing well, enabling different styles and fashion statements to come together and pushing people to express themselves. Although I did almost completely update my wardrobe coming here – unfortunately for my wallet… – I can now wear clothes that I feel like ‘me’ in without fear of judgment. Back home or at school, this wasn’t quite so easy and fun.
Photo: University of St. Andrews