Students skirt dress code to express individuality

Throughout the halls of SJS, pops of bright colors and eye-catching patterns shine through a sea of navy and white polo shirts, plaid skirts and beige khakis. Although every student wears a uniform, many still find ways to stand out.

Uniforms create a sense of community and alleviate the stress of selecting an outfit every day, but they can also limit self-expression. Students are forced to find alternative and original ways to display their individuality despite their uniforms. 

Freshman Elise DiPaolo’s rainbow platform sneakers make a bold statement. (Lexi Guo)

“In a weird way, uniforms can demonstrate self-expression because, if you want to be expressive, you need to really want to,” senior Lily Pesikoff said. “When you see people do cool things with their makeup, you know that they’re putting in the extra effort.” 

Although the dress code sets guidelines for clothing, students are free to experiment with footwear, jewelry and makeup. North Face backpacks, claw clips, double piercings, and Nike Blazer sneakers have cemented themselves as SJS staples. 

When it comes to shoes, Nike remains the most common, but brands like OnCloud, Hoka and Golden Goose are gaining popularity. Senior Lindsay Frankfort rotates three pairs of Doc Martens throughout the week, while freshman Elise DiPaolo often wears colorful platform shoes to school. 

“Footwear is really making a breakthrough in our sense of style,” said freshman Talulah Monthy, who sports platform Oxfords. “Usually we’d express ourselves through shirts or pants, but instead we express ourselves through different kinds of shoes.” 

Many trends are driven by social media platforms. Sites like TikTok and Instagram contribute to increasingly fast trend cycles, making it difficult for people to keep up with what is considered trendy. While most students still look to social media for fashion inspiration, others like Monthy are making an effort to find ideas elsewhere. 

Freshman Talulah Monthy displays her Vintage Nike Blazer sneakers, a popular shoe amongst SJS students. (Virginia Carolyn Crawford)

“I want to stay away from big trends that are going to go away in a week,” she said. 

Although TikTok has greatly contributed to the rise of fast fashion and micro trends, the app also promotes self-expression and creativity. Junior Aspen Collins is a part of a “niche subgroup” of TikTok where “people wear whatever they want, despite what others say.” These outfits can seem over-the-top and ugly to some, but Collins notes that the creators of the videos are always happy and confident in their attire. Because of TikTok, Collins feels more comfortable experimenting with fashion. 

“I saw something that said what you’re wearing is either hot or camp,” Collins said. “I think a lot of the TikTokers I’m seeing are going more towards camp outfits—they’re so avant-garde and fashionable.” 

The pandemic has had a significant impact on fashion trends as well. When Covid-19 first hit, loungewear dominated fashion trends since people were forced to stay at home and had fewer incentives to dress formally. Collins noticed that when students returned to in-person classes in 2021, loungewear and comfortable clothing like sweatpants and leggings remained common. 

Senior Lily Pesikoff shows off her Students Against Stigma sweatshirt. The colorful symbols and drawings, embroidered by Pesikoff herself, are meant to reflect her personality. (Virginia Carolyn Crawford)

Covid and subsequent lockdowns also allowed students to discover new hobbies and develop their sense of style. While quarantining at home in 2020, Pesikoff took up embroidery. She “fell in love” with the craft and began embroidering her school sweatshirts with colorful patterns and symbols—it allowed her to stand out from her peers and express herself within the boundaries of the uniform. 

“If you give me a quick glance and only see my sweatshirt, you can take away bits and pieces of who I am,” Pesikoff said. 

Accessories also allow students to showcase their styles. Sophomore Audrey Liu wears bright red shoes and leg warmers with her uniform to combat the cold, while senior Gabe de la Cruz dons unique earrings and Frankfort applies vibrant eyeliner that contrasts her monochromatic Doc Martens. 

“You can tell a lot about a person by how they wear their uniform,” Liu said. “You can show your style without worrying about what you’re going to wear everyday.”  

Free dress days and spirit days provide an opportunity for students to express themselves and display their sense of fashion outside of the confines of a uniform. Because he is normally restricted by the limited dress code, the flexibility of free dress day is liberating for de la Cruz.  

“You don’t have to think about what you’re going to wear every day,” de la Cruz said. “So, when you do think about it, it’s definitely a special thing.” 

Fashion can also help students connect with others. 

“Your outfit is a way to strike up conversation and represent who you are,” Pesikoff said. “You don’t even have to do anything—sometimes your clothes can do the talking for you.”

For de la Cruz, fashion is freeing. For DiPaolo, fashion fosters self-love and confidence. For Collins, fashion is a creative outlet and a way to stand out. The meaning of self-expression through clothing is different for everyone, but it is important to all.  

“I feel amazing when I’m wearing something that I love,” Frankfort said. “I just think that wearing what makes you feel powerful and beautiful is something really special.”