High school fashion: a new uniform?


Joelle Huysmans

Rows of colorful tops displayed at the Hillsdale Mall’s Lululemon store, a favorite for Burlingame students.

Joelle Huysmans, Diversity Coordinator

Every decade comes with its own, unique style. 50 years ago, there was the distinct ‘70s hippie look, consisting of the popular bell-bottom pants, maxi dresses and tie-dye t-shirt—the fashion staple of the period. Moving on in time, the ‘80s were dominated by eye-straining neon colors, shoulder pads and leg warmers. Images of animal prints, jean jackets and flannel shirts flash before your eyes when thinking of the ‘90s fashion must-haves. Each era’s wardrobe exudes a different style mirroring the traits of the time. In the past,  fashion was used to stand out, but a much too homogenous style is becoming established in high schools today.

Burlingame doesn’t require its students to wear a uniform, but walking through the halls, I wouldn’t fault you for thinking otherwise. Although the Panther uniform is not as obvious as the white shirts, navy blazers and plaid skirts of private schools, it’s not hard to recognize a monotonous pattern in students’ outfits, particularly in the brands they wear.

Despite the coming and going of countless trends in the fashion industry, there are so few dominating clothing brands and trends at Burlingame that I can count them off on my fingers. 

Day after day, I find myself surrounded by swarms of students dressed in Urban Outfitters cargo pants and Levi’s denim, probably paired with a Brandy Melville baby tee. Students aiming for an athletic style are likely dressed in the popular Lululemon align tank with Aerie flare leggings or Aviator Nation sweatpants. Of course, as the cherry on the top, outfits are complemented with Nike shoes, either Blazers, Air Force 1s or Dunks. 

Before diving into the matter, I’d like to set the record straight. In no way am I an exception to wearing those predictable clothes. I, along with countless other students, have hopelessly fallen victim to the trap of being restricted to wearing only certain popular brands. Although I occasionally try to liven up my style by experimenting with thrifted pieces or unfamiliar brands, my fashion interest inevitably gravitates toward the safe and reliable choices of popular brands. 

Over the years, a select few brands have become a mainstay amongst students, and for good reason. Before criticizing their ubiquitousness in our school, we must recognize that they hold several qualities. Not only do these brands provide exceptional clothing, suitable to every season, the manufacturing is high quality as well, maximizing comfort to its users. 

For instance, take a look at the Los Angeles-based company, Aviator Nation. Each garment is handmade, ensuring attention to detail, contrasting with the common mass production of large clothing industries. 

Although popular brands offer obvious benefits, the issue of bland high school fashion persists. We no longer see the wide variety of outfits we had back in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. While this problem may seem irrelevant, monotony in high school fashion can get boring and sometimes a little annoying. You can’t even show up to school wearing Lululemon leggings without knowing that 20 people will be wearing the same thing. 

Why do students choose to wear the same few brands to school? While some claim to purchase these items because of their high quality, most of us still use them as a way to fit in and feel more confident. 

Students mirror the people around them to blend with their school environment and get approval from their peers. It is concerning to think that the main motivation behind students’ style is simply to climb the social ladder.

Additionally, wanting to fit in comes at a hefty price. In this case, the term could be taken literally. Clothing brands like Lululemon, Aviator Nation, Urban Outfitters and PacSun often have exorbitant prices.  

It hits me every time I go shopping. After strenuous searching through the racks, I finally find something cute and wearable. To my great disappointment, I flip over the tag and notice the triple digit prices. But then again, the attraction is too strong and sometimes I surrender, spending all of my savings on it. 

It wouldn’t be fair to talk about high school fashion without mentioning those who break the mold, dressing in line with their personality and passions. I congratulate those of you who can defy social standing and give us a glimpse of what fashion is truly meant to be: not a way to boost your self-esteem, but a way to embrace your identity and express yourself.