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COMMENTARY: Time at U. has taught me fashion lessons

I grew up in a town of "haves" and "have-nots." Those with the "haves" were simply placed higher up on the trivial social ladder than the "have-nots." Even beginning in the early days of elementary school, this distinction was clear. 

In the first grade it was the candy-covered messenger bags to hold our folders and notebooks for school. JanSport backpacks were out, so that summer I begged my mom every day to let me fit in with the rest. Fourth grade was the time for brightly-colored Butter sweatshirts that looked like they were designed by an actual fourth grader. Showing up to school in one of these basically said: “My parents love me more than you.” These seemingly unimportant trends decided who was cool and who was not, much like Kooky Pens and Webkinz. What you had and how many you had of it were what made you cool. 

As I got older, though, the trends became more frequent and more expensive. By the time I reached my senior year, it was natural to walk into to school every morning holding a mortgage payment: Louis Vuitton key ring ($300), Golden Goose sneakers ($500), Canada Goose jacket ($900+) and Cartier bracelet that resembled a hair tie ($500). What should be considered nice things that are hard-earned had become mere status symbols. 

Most of these things I did not have, simply because they were so expensive and my parents were smart enough to refuse to buy me a pair of sneakers that looked like they had already been worn. I spent my free time looking for knockoffs and items that resembled what everyone seemed to have. I thought it was more important to conform to the culture of my school by wasting both mine and my parents' money than present my own personal style.

But my time at Rutgers has taught me that these “status symbols” mean so much less than I once valued them as. Like many people, Rutgers was not my first-choice college. I had approximately half a dozen private, city schools lined up before the University. I thought that they were more my speed, as their $70,000 price tags made them seem more exclusive and therefore undoubtedly better. I felt it was “so me” to go to a school where my peers literally had money oozing out of their ears. These schools were looked up to and were basically everything that Rutgers was not.

I came to the University in August, thinking that the more stuff I had, the more people would respect me—much like how it was in high school. Packages from Urban Outfitters, Nordstrom and ASOS showed up in my mailbox almost daily, and I spent money like it was water. I was trying to find my own style identity without being in the shadows of how other people thought I should dress. 

Admittedly, I now own some of these “status symbol” items. I proudly wear my Canada Goose jacket and I have a Hermès bracelet I love, but these are things that I genuinely love and would buy again in a heartbeat. Rutgers taught me to distinguish what is expensive and what is valuable, what is worth it and what is worth it right now. I recently got a neon tie-dye Astroworld sweatshirt. Expensive? Yes. Valuable? Not really, but everyone likes to be a little bougie. 

I love high fashion, and my personal style includes staple investment pieces mixed with trendy, fast-fashion items I know I will only get a season or two out of. It is neither necessary nor realistic for most people to have everything be designer, but I have learned to appreciate the craft of high-quality designs and the cheap tops I can get at Forever 21 equally. I know that my love and knowledge for fashion is much greater than many people, so while I could talk about Karl Lagerfeld’s final Chanel show and why old CELINE is better than new CELINE for hours, most people simply do not care. 

This knowledge has translated into my college style because while I would (at one time) choose a more expensive piece from a designer I love, but most people would not know, it is more worthwhile to save my money and find a cooler piece from a less expensive brand. People are much more impressed by a top you got on sale from Tobi than the one you spent way too much money on just because it was from the new Current/Elliot collection at Bloomingdales. 

I have always been able to use my fashion choices to distinguish periods of my life. Sparkly rayon t-shirts from Justice commemorate my second to fourth grade “cute” years. Black jeans and band shirts signify that weird emo stage everyone went through in middle school. College is easily the happiest me I have ever known, and my style that is so uniquely me embodies that very well. I know that in my next three years here, Rutgers will continue to teach me about both my style and myself.

Marley Arzonico is a Rutgers Business School first-year planning to major in marketing.

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