A boy in hot pink go-go boots and a handmade Beetlejuice-inspired jacket sits at the picnic table outside of Leavenworth.
It’s clear right away that he stands out from the crowd.
“Great outfit!” a student said while walking by.
Daniel Jackson, a senior and musical theater major, thanks the student as they pass. He knows that his style is different and eye-catching.
And he likes it that way.
“I’m known as the kid with the go-go boots, the bowties, the bright colors,” Jackson said, adding, “It feels good, because it’s my own stamp and you can see me, like, all the way across campus.”
But Jackson isn’t alone standing out a bit from the crowd of sweatpants and jeans when it comes to fashion at Castleton University.
A quick walk around campus revealed a bubbly girl with bright blue hair and a contrasting pastel pink skirt.
Then there was a boy with his nails painted a shiny, jade green with rings decorating his fingers.
And steps further found one student in a cool patterned shirt and sunglasses, another with bright red hair and a band t-shirt, and yet another wearing a purple cardigan to match her purple hair.
But standing out isn’t the only reason Jackson, or any of these students, choose to dress uniquely. There are stories behind everyone’s choices of outfits.
For Jackson, it’s inspiration from the styles of Tim Burton, from Daphne from Scooby Doo, and from queer history. Jackson saw “Kinky Boots,” saw RuPaul’s “Drag Race,” and wanted to emulate that.
“These people are doing things that I want to do. The way they’re dressing is so out there and big and broad and that’s how I want to dress all the time,” he said.
And his signature pink go-go boots?
“[They] were born out of doing drag. I was like ‘why wait until I perform to put them on?’”
For first-year graphic design major Ruben Somda who regularly paints his nails and wears gold rings on his fingers, it’s self-care, self-expression, and a statement.
“I know that there’s been a stigma in terms of what men can and can’t do. I felt like that’s stupid. I’m gonna do what I want,” Somda said.
Self-expression is a concept of importance to almost everyone who chooses to dress uniquely.
Raluca Burtch, who is an early college student, goes throughout her day with her hair dyed bright red, clad in white platform Doc Martens and mostly black outfits.
“Some people call it alternative, but I just wear whatever I like,” said Burtch, explaining her style.
One of Burtch’s staples is band shirts – Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Dream Theater, Def Leppard, Pink Floyd, Deftones, AC/DC, Nirvana, Tool.
“Immediately upon hitting high school I started wearing band shirts. I still have all of them from freshman year of high school,” Burtch said. She sees her band shirts as pieces that “exemplify” her interests.
Junior Josie Gawrys, who double majors in media and communications and technical theater and design, customizes their clothes and likes to dress, as they put it, “in a lot of different ways.”
However, it’s taken some time for Gawrys to be confident in the way they dress.
“Definitely in college I got a lot more confidence, settled into my identity. I’d say probably this year, 2021, is when I started to dress the way I wanted and not worry as much about what other people think,” Gawrys said.
Finding your own personal style is a process, one that all of these students know well.
Early college student Libby Keith used the period of isolation during COVID to find herself and her style.
“Through COVID, I had the ability to express myself in a multitude of ways one of which being able to dress the way I wanted without being afraid to be criticized by other people,” Keith said.
Keith was not the only one who discovered her style during the lockdown. Aris Sherwood, senior media and communications major, rediscovered her love of clothes and fashion while at home.
But it’s not always easy to know you’re standing out on campus.
Sherwood brought all of her favorite clothes to school, excited to try things out and be “the most extra version” of herself. On the first day of school, however, she got a wake-up call.
“I put on my first day of school outfit. I felt adorable, I loved that outfit. Then I walked outside, and I was wearing my little cowgirl boots, and everyone else was wearing sneakers and leggings and sweatpants and I just felt so out of place,” Sherwood said. “It made me feel so tiny, so small.”
Since then, Sherwood hasn’t ventured outside the norm very much when she gets dressed for class. But she’s learning.
“It brought me back to freshman year of college when I felt like I had to present myself in a certain way to make friends. But people that I know like me just the way that I am,” Sherwood said.
It’s not easy to get into fashion, to find your personal style. Gawrys knows this.
“It can be sort of a hard community to get into. But the popularity of thrifting coming forward has made that more accessible,” Gawrys said. “I have Harley Davidson boots. I got them for $10 at Rutland Goodwill!” they added excitedly.
And it can be difficult to have the confidence to show that personal style once you have figured it out. It takes time.
“We’ve all been there. If you were talking to me two or three years ago, I’d be way too nervous to wear a lot of the stuff that I wear now,” Gawrys said.
It’s the same for Jackson, who said that four years ago, he wouldn’t have dressed the way he does now. But he decided to push the boundaries.
“I definitely get a lot of looks, which is to be expected. I’ve gotten used to the amount of looks I get. I’m more comfortable with it now than I used to be,” Jackson said. “People should have more fun with clothes… There’s no harm in playing around and going for something bold. Feel free to dress however you want to dress.”
Keith decided to push the boundaries as well, and she’s found freedom in it.
“If you were to ask me a couple years ago, I probably would’ve been like ‘oh my gosh, I don’t want people to stare at me,’ but now it feels liberating to dress the way that I choose to without any notion of what other people care. If they look at me strange, then they look at me strange. It’s my choice of how I want to express myself,” Keith said.