The real fashion faux pas is being a sheep. Photos by Lauren Gdowski.
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“Fashions come and go, but style is forever.”
Variations of this adage have been traced back to the late 19th century. From “fashion comes and goes, style goes on forever” in 1929 to “fashions fade, style is eternal” by Yves Saint Laurent in 1975, people have asserted time and time again the dichotomy between the two.
So what is the difference between fashion and style in the first place, and why does it even matter to differentiate the two?
Fashion versus style
Most people use the two terms interchangeably, which is fine in an everyday context where nobody’s going to be that pedantic about your real-life colloquialisms. But from a technical standpoint, there is a huge difference between fashion and style, and knowing that distinction can make or break the way you dress.
By definition, “fashion” in the modern sense refers to what is popular at a certain point in time — AKA trends. “Style” is your own idiosyncratic way of dressing, both the items of clothing themselves and how you wear them. Style is what makes your wardrobe unique to you or me, regardless if it’s trendy or not.
As such, fashion is inherently highly subject to the whims of society, influencers and the fashion industry. Staying fashionable requires constant closet upkeep, always buying, buying, buying new to stay afloat on top of the trends. As something can come into fashion, it can just as easily go out of fashion.
In stark contrast, personal style is something that comes from within. Style is influenced by external factors to an extent — after all, none of us live in some fashion vacuum, and we all have to gain inspiration from somewhere — but it is much more resistant to the fickle winds of what’s trending on the day-to-day. Even when what was once fashionable last month or last year is no longer trendy today, your own internal sense of expression persists.
Frick you, fast fashion
Prioritizing style over fashion has huge environmental and financial benefits. Evelyn Stewart, a sophomore history-anthropology major, feels that our concept of being fashionable is inextricably linked to the fast fashion industry. Donned in a 1950s-inspired outfit complete with pedal pusher trousers and two-toned saddle shoes, she described the business as a “nightmare of an industry.”
“There’s all these trends that come and go really fast and this cycle of, ‘Y2k is in, and it’s gonna be out in a month,’” Stewart said. “And people buy these clothes from Shein that they’re gonna throw away after they take one video for TikTok.”
The fashion industry is notoriously horrible for the environment. It is one of the most polluting industries in the world, not to mention the human rights abuses, primarily of women of color in the Global South, and alarming supply chain opacity famous among fan-favorite fast fashion brands all the way from Shein to Urban Outfitters. And all this for the capitalist gain of a multi-trillion dollar industry.
A lightning-fast production cycle has become the industry norm, and the nonstop bombardment of social media fools us into thinking that being stylish is predicated on constant consumption. People buy more clothing now than literally any other period in history to keep up with the latest trends — only to discard clothes more and more quickly. Just from 2000 to 2014, the average person bought 60% more clothing but kept each piece for only half as long.
If you constantly buy clothes that are fashionable in the present moment without considering how they fit into your already-existing wardrobe and what you’ll realistically wear, those clothes are probably going to end up collecting dust in your room. Be honest: how much stuff in your closet still has the tag on it? If you bought it only because you thought you were supposed to, that garment and your hard-earned moola are inevitably going to waste. Even if fast fashion can be dirt cheap — at the cost of labor rights violations in lawsuit-inducing sweatshops, of course — that ish adds up over time.
Those slim jeans I bought over two years ago because I thought everybody was “supposed” to have jeans even though they’re not a staple for me? Worn once. That faux leather jacket I bought almost four years ago without thinking about how it would fit on my specific 5’2” frame? Never worn, still new with tags. Seriously, please email me if you’d like to take it off my hands.
All that flashy marketing in our society tries to tell you that hyperconsumption is the key to being stylish, but only fashion can be bought — you can’t buy your way to good style. Save your money, save your energy, save space in your closet, save the environment; buy for your personal style, not for fashion.
You can never go out of style
If the way you dressed was never “in” fashion in the first place, then you never have to worry about going “out” of fashion.
My personal style is very influenced by vintage eras. While I can appreciate the contemporary, I’m not concerned with staying up to date with what’s hot in 2023 because my aesthetic is so rooted in decades that are long gone.
Stewart, who draws inspiration from the Victorian and Edwardian eras along with the 1940s and 50s, feels similarly.
“Because my style is so inspired by things that have not been in fashion for 70 years, I think it’s fairly easy for me [to stick to my own style] because I’m completely not trying to stay up to date,” Stewart said. “It’s very obvious that I don’t care, and that’s not what I’m trying to do.”
Fast fashion in the information age has transformed the fashion trend cycle from decades to a mere handful of years. Personally, I find it slightly nightmarish that the jeans plus dress combo from my youth has become trendy. But, like honestly, who cares? If you’re wearing what’s true to you, my opinion means absolutely nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Especially with the rise of microtrends on TikTok, all this proves is that trends come into the collective limelight just as quickly as they exit it.
If you simply distance yourself from trying to stay relevant, then you relieve yourself of the Sisyphean task of trying to fit in with the ever-changing fashion zeitgeist.
Sophomore biology major Abigail Lopez maintains a goth aesthetic. Sporting a dramatic, 90s-style burgundy velvet maxi dress and black Crocs with silver gothic Jibbitz, she articulated how liberating focusing inward can be.
“People are always complaining about how fast trends move, and how expensive trends are, this or that,” Lopez said. “And I just always say, if you develop your own style, then you don’t have to worry about it … I see people say, ‘If this comes back into fashion, I’m going to be so upset,’ or, ‘If this goes out of fashion, I’m going to be so upset.’ It’s like, if you like it, wear it.”
You do you, boo
Last year when I went on vacation, I only packed practical, conventionally “normal” clothes: leggings in lieu of my vintage trousers, running shoes instead of my leather sneakers, hoodies and T-shirts from school events in place of my turtleneck sweaters.
And frankly: I felt miserable. I felt sloppy; I felt self-conscious. Even though those are all very much so perfectly acceptable, regular-people clothes that are staples for many a Butler student, and literally nobody else gave as much of a second glance, I felt so uncomfortable. In short, I didn’t feel like myself.
If you stay true to your personal stylistic point of view, then you can stay rest assured that you’re the most confident and genuine version of yourself.
“Even when I wear things that I know are fashionable, if it’s not me, I don’t feel as good,” Stewart said. “I know I look cute, but … I’m not having as good of a time as I could be.”
If you’re afraid of being judged for being unfashionable, fear not. When Lopez sees someone else wearing something that’s considered basic or outdated, she can still appreciate it if it aids in that person’s personal expression.
“I do not look down on people that enjoy skinny jeans or Lululemon,” Lopez said. “I look down on people that do not have their own personality or refuse to express their personality through their clothing, if they are just blindly following trends. But if that’s truly who they are, if that’s truly what they want to wear, I respect it.”
Nonetheless, don’t be afraid to stand out, either. The way I dress may not always be technically in fashion, but it’s distinct, and people recognize that; they acknowledge the intentionality and the authenticity. I’ve received almost exclusively positive comments about the way I dress, and a YikYak once even cited me as the most stylish person on campus — and I’m still living off that high. I don’t dress for other people’s approval, but it is affirming that veering away from trends is no big deal at all.
But ultimately, if you rely on what’s in fashion to dictate how you dress, then external society gets to judge how good you look. With your personal style coming from within yourself, even if what you’re wearing is considered weird or out of fashion, then your confidence only has to rely on yourself and your own judgment.
“If you’re constantly chasing validation from other people, you’re never gonna get it,” Stewart said. “But if you are able to validate yourself, then you’re winning … It’s harder for people to bring you down.”
Even with the handful of mean things people have said to my face about my outfits, it’s easy to brush off when I know it comes from a place of closed-mindedness, and all the while I’m just being me. Like when some rando on campus yelled at me for wearing head-to-toe autumnal tones in September: that revealed way more about her than me.
Incorporating fashion into your style the right way
All that to say: it’s not a sin to enjoy the constantly shifting landscape of fashion. You don’t have to avoid trends like the plague, and you don’t have to stick to one restrictive aesthetic day in and day out. In fact, it’s way more fun to play and switch up your look based on the vibe for the day. You just need to think critically about whatever trends you choose to engage in to let your personal style evolve organically.
In a pair of wide-leg jeans and a cut-out crop top, first-year biochemistry major Kate Thuma is influenced by trends — she feels everybody is to an extent — but does her best to approach them in a systematic way.
“I think: okay, do I really think this looks good?” Thuma said. “Do I think this would look good on me? Do I think this reflects me? Do I think this is worth the price? Do I think it would match and work in multiple ways? And if I can answer ‘yes’ to a lot of those questions, then I would consider it more highly than something that I answered [‘yes’ to] none of those questions.”
Thuma also feels that you should prioritize your comfort and confidence when developing your style, and Lopez agreed.
“My dad always says, ‘Wear the clothes; don’t let the clothes wear you,’” Lopez said. “And I always think about that because whenever I go in public, I’m like, ‘Are the clothes wearing me? Do I like this?’ Because if I feel uncomfortable, and I don’t like it, I shouldn’t be wearing it.”
When you do want to partake in a trend, try to do it responsibly. Adapt it into your own style. Imitate it using what you already have. Buy secondhand. Lopez even DIYed the leg warmer trend by cutting the sleeves off an old sweater.
Lastly, have the maturity to recognize when a fashion simply isn’t your style, and be able to appreciate it from a distance. Just because you think something is cute doesn’t mean you’d actually be happy wearing it IRL.
Well, my friends, I hope you understand now why honoring your personal style is so important. Even as fashions come and go, you deserve to be able to express yourself authentically.
Fitting in is overrated anyway, so make every day a style slay.