How do international students in the UK transform their style over the course of their studies? What do they think of student trends here? Education UK's Sophie Partarrieu asked three students from Jordan, Mexico and France respectively to look at their sartorial history and describe how what they wear has changed since they arrived.
What was your first impression of the way people in the UK dress?
Omayma Madi, MA in Dentistry: The one thing that made me feel the difference was the way women dress up and look glamorous during the evenings and weekends. The way people dress at home in Jordan is a bit more conservative, and follows religious or ‘traditional’ guidelines. But there are a few people in Jordan who do have a similar style to Europeans in general, so I wasn't totally shocked.
Kristian Javier, PhD in Computer Science: I think walking around Manchester during my first week in the UK was an eye-opener. The thing that impressed me the most was: layering. Because of the crazy weather, people wear so many layers here and actually, I think it looks good. That's something you won't get back home in Mexico. I think in the UK there are more diverse styles. Mexican students are more homogeneous.
Unfortunately, there is no reason why I would ever wear a trench coat in Mexico. But in the UK I wear one every single day - I love trench coats! I have to say though, I am surprised by the number of people wearing black or different shades of grey on a daily basis. That's not something you see back home, not even in winter.
Indy Leclercq, PhD in Astrophysics: A lot of students here, especially in the 'artsy' subjects, obviously put a lot of time into the way they dress and try to keep up with fashion trends. You definitely see lots of funky haircuts and piercings, and colourful leggings on campus. I'm from France, and I think the main difference with the UK is that here people are a lot more daring and will wear things that French people – who tend to dress more conservatively in my opinion – would stare at in horror!
Over the course of your studies, have you changed the way you think about clothes and the way you present yourself?
Omayma: Not that much. I think that thanks to technology, the world is now more open and people’s way of dressing is more similar than it has ever been before. When I was doing my bachelor's degree in Jordan, I used to dress up a bit more; suit jackets and matching skirts, nice dresses and blouses and that sort of thing. I would say that now I own funkier items like brogues, which I pair with jeans. I think being ‘smart’ or ‘elegant’ means different things in different places – and across different generations. My mum and I certainly differ on the definition of ‘elegant’.
Kris: Yes, definitely. First of all, I reduced my collection of jeans to one dark ‘slim’ pair, and now I wear ‘slim’ trousers on a daily basis. The first time I saw slim trousers I thought ‘how am I ever going to squeeze into those?!’ Secondly, I ditched most of my baggy t-shirts for polos or Oxford shirts. Now, I wear boots almost every day, and if I think I need a new item, I check the Ralph Lauren catalogue to find what I like and then try to find it for less money. Looking dapper is an expensive business.
Indy: I've always dressed in a pretty simple jeans/t-shirt/sneakers combo – when you’re studying for a PhD in physics, nobody really cares what clothes you wear, I could probably turn up in pyjamas if I felt like it. I like seeing how classmates dress, or people in the street. That definitely inspires me – if I see something I like when I'm people-watching, I'll keep an eye out for it when I eventually get around to clothes-shopping.
How important is style and fashion to you? How much do you think it affects the way people respond to you?
Omayma: Style and fashion affect my daily mood and help me reflect my personality. At the same time, I think that the way people deal with others is relatively influenced by the way they dress. I sometimes feel like dressing in more comfortable clothes and not caring so much about colours or styles – but then I’m sure that I would get some strange looks!
Kris: I do think it affects how people respond to you. Once, a PhD student from a humanities department told me that he liked me because, unlike the other Computer Science PhD students, I look 'like I care about my dress sense'. I’m pretty sure he thought that was a compliment. I thought it was a bit rude, I would much prefer he had liked me because I am a cool person - which I'm pretty sure I am!
Indy: I think style is important, and it does affect the way people see you, if only subconsciously. I wouldn't say fashion is part of my identity, but I do dress in a certain way that I’d like to call my own. A lot of my clothes represent personal memories: t-shirts from gigs I attended in London or Paris, colourful trousers that I saved up to buy, or the bright red woolly hat I bought when I first moved north and realised it was freezing!
The stereotype of student fashion is that it’s either scruffy or experimental – very different from how people dress in a professional workplace. Do you agree?
Omayma: I agree with this to a certain extent, even though I have definitely seen some students with a really professional style in the UK, or a ‘smart-casual’ style. As part of my course, I had to train at an NHS hospital and deal with patients, so I had to appear formal all the time. Sadly, it’s not ‘ok’ to have a doctor in pink tights with yellow polka dots!
Kris: I do agree! For example, there were lots of students that listen to heavy metal music at my university in Mexico and you could tell from the way they dress. I don't see that in the UK at all. And you could definitely not get away with that ‘heavy metal’ style in a work environment in either Mexico or the UK.
If I worked in the private sector, I would probably buy more expensive trousers. I’m not sure if I will change after university, particularly because I am hoping to stay in academia, and even at a professional level people in academia tend to be scruffy. Personally, I don’t intend to ever end up looking scruffy.
Indy: Students in the UK definitely tend to be quite daring with what they wear. They can get a bit scruffy at times, but that's because they don't need to be in a suit to go to lectures. Uni is also the time to let your hair down a bit and relax!
The British Council is collaborating with the British Fashion Council to present the International Fashion Showcase, which takes place in London on 20-24 February 2015.
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