I stood in the checkout queue at the Topshop on Broadway. In front of me were two immaculately dressed girls lamenting that they had forgotten to bring their student IDs. Their makeup was perfectly applied, they were dressed with painstaking fashion precision. I couldn’t believe that these were undergraduate students – weren’t undergraduates the ones who slobbed around in tracksuit bottoms, jeans and bed-head hair? My initial suspicion was that I must be looking at two Art or Fashion majors…except that in NYC the physicists are probably this well-dressed, too.
That’s the problem with New York. Everybody in downtown Manhattan puts so much effort into their appearance, I feel embarassingly scruffy when standing next to them. And of course that only way I can mitigate such an impeding sense of embarassment is to buy lots of expensive clothes. What business owner wouldn’t want to set up a store in that kind of societal pressure cooker?!
Now, the immediate question is…why would a scruffy international grad student even care about how the denizens of Manhattan garb themselves?
It’s to do with escapism, I think.
There is the persistent sensation that I am trapped on the campus of this sprawling public university. The staple of the undergraduates’ wardrobes seem to be Ugg/Timberland Boots (gender depending) and university-brand hoodies. If I want to “eat out” on campus it means a choice between the “so inauthentic its good” Chinese & Mexican vendors that cost me less than $8. When I exist solely within the confines of my university and town life is cheap, but rather constrained.
Whenever I board the regional rail I am attempting some sort of escape from being a scruffy international grad student. If I jump on the South-bound train I am escaping the “grad student” part: Philadelphia is where I meet up with my “Year In Industry” friends, 95% of whom aren’t grad students. If I jump on the North-bound train towards New York, I am escaping everything.