I remember arriving in Isla Vista and for the first time seeing a girl wearing leggings with nothing else to cover her butt. I felt genuinely sorry for her, thinking that she had forgotten her skirt or her dress at home. When I, in the course of my first week of class at University of California, Santa Barbara, saw a few hundred more girls sporting the same outfit, I had to reconsider, realizing how unlikely it was that they had all forgotten their skirts.
Moving here from Denmark in September 2013 has presented me with a lot of cultural surprises, and this is only one of them. That being said, I do not wish to stereotype all UCSB students into one category, as I also see many people who have in fact remembered to put on their pants or skirt, and some that have their own personal styles, too.
The initial astonishment at something entirely new about another culture or group of people always excites me, maybe especially because I am an anthropology major and love cultural diversity to the point that it gets a little annoying. Very often it takes an outsider to see things that people within a certain social context take for granted, so here I am to make you think about it: clothing says so much about people! In all societies that I have ever witnessed or read about, appearance is vital. Whether used primordially to attract a mate or as a means to affect your social status, your appearance is the first thing others can and will judge you by. Do you think anyone would take a lawyer in sweatpants seriously? I personally do not really take anybody wearing sweatpants outside of their home seriously, because the norms surrounding me thus far in Denmark have taught me that if you dress sloppy, you are sloppy. Now the interesting thing is how that credo evidently does not apply to a lot of UCSB students.
Almost none of the girls I have talked to think twice about showcasing their butts to the rest of the world in their thin, black leggings. I’ve heard girls say that they wear leggings because they are comfortable, and because they make their butts look good. The same goes for the short, short, short shorts that display a lot of butt cheek–really, girls?
There are a couple of other things I have noticed frequent the typical UCSB student’s outfit: flip-flops, sports shoes, sweatpants, crop tops (so much skin), workout clothes worn all day (am I naïve to think that people actually do work out when they wear that?), enormous backpacks with the rims tucked all the way in (how do you guys have so much stuff to carry?), and UCSB clothes. The UCSB merchandise is something I really like about this school. I don’t even know if my university in Denmark has a T-shirt with its logo on it, I don’t know where I could find it, and I certainly wouldn’t buy it, much less wear it, if I did. University of Copenhagen students don’t have the same feeling of unity that I experience here, and that people show off with all their UCSB gear.
As my friends here have pointed out, it’s also nice not having to care what other people think about you all the time. The fact that leggings and sweatpants are socially acceptable reflects people’s laid back, chill mentality. And of course, we also have to take our context into consideration. This is California–surf and sun and palm trees–and more specifically this is UCSB, a campus unmatched by any in the world. UCSB has a special atmosphere that we all know, and which I am not ambitious or foolish enough to try and fixate here in a few semi-pretentious lines.
Any of you who have been or are on exchange will know that studying abroad is all about cultural immersion. However, I don’t ever see myself getting so immersed that I would wear what my housemates and I call the “basic bitch” outfit or even leggings around campus. In fact, I still can’t even do it for yoga.
In Denmark, people dress for “black business as usual.” So here’s a tip for you: if you ever visit Denmark, don’t wear sweatpants. Or leggings.
Photo Courtesy of Anjila Hjalsted