In first grade, I was required to wear a polo shirt with “St. Elizabeth Catholic School” emblazoned on it. Starting in fifth grade, the dress code required a white button-down shirt and a red-and-navy plaid tie. (A clip-on, though not preferred, was allowed.) When I got to high school, the rules were looser; any type of chinos, polo shirt, and dress shoes were allowed. But I still felt that a dress code restricted my personal style, so I was eager to get to college, where every day was “free dress” day.
I started with what I had: a graphic tee from Hot Topic, skinny jeans from H&M, and a pair of Nikes. At the time, my wardrobe still mostly consisted of minor rebellions against my private school background. Nothing needed ironing. I even owned a studded belt, which I sometimes paired with a hardcore heavy metal band T-shirt and wore to my freshman writing seminar if I was feeling particularly disgruntled. More or less, this style became my collegiate uniform over the next couple of years. You’d see me at Libe Café looking like I was waiting in line for an Iron Maiden concert.
But around my junior year I started to feel there was something incongruous or unacademic about dressing that way at an Ivy League institution. Many of my peers looked like future lawyers, professors, and businessmen, while I apparently owned the only studded belt in a ten-mile radius. Cornell’s inherent preppiness started to rub off on me, and I found myself choosing the sweater over the hoodie, the boat shoe over the sneaker. I went home for winter break and came back with my old button-downs. Last spring, I fell in love with a blue plaid flannel shirt my mother bought me ages ago, but I’d hardly ever worn. Before I knew it, my closet was again filled with L.L. Bean and J. Crew.
I had come full circle—but this time around my private school attire was voluntary. Perhaps it was the desire to fit in . . . or the realization that I am not, in fact, a rock star. Or maybe it’s just growing up. How many adults still dress the way they did when they were teenagers? At any rate, today you’ll find me in clothing that even my high school dean of students would approve of.
— Daniel Tsoy ’13