Dear Tell All: I'm shocked by how badly UW-Madison students dress for class. Most of them look like they put on any old thing that happened to be sitting on the laundry pile next to their beds. It's like they're dressed for cleaning the house, not attending a university. They seem perfectly happy to look tacky, and it makes you understand why people in cultural centers like New York or Los Angeles sneer at us here in the Midwest.
When I went to college, students cared more about how they looked. And I think that raised standards, both for behavior and academic success.
Dear Fashion Plate: I don't agree that dressing better makes you a better person. Bernard Madoff, for example, looked awfully respectable in his tailored suits.
As for UW students, I'd never noticed that they dressed especially badly, so I hung out on campus to test your theory. And I have to admit that you're right: Almost nobody dresses up. In the warmer weeks of September, it was flip-flops, T-shirts and shapeless shorts for the females; tennis shoes, T-shirts and shapeless shorts for the males. As the weather has gotten colder, shapeless jeans have substituted for shapeless shorts. Generally, the only nod to style is the women's painted toenails. Otherwise, most of the students are so anti-fashion that it practically qualifies as a fashion statement. Call it Haute Badger.
But I say: cool. The UW students don't want to be pretentious. They don't want to be uncomfortable in stylish clothes. They have no interest in impressing those people from New York and Los Angeles whose opinion you prize so dearly, Fashion Plate. While the coasts sneer at us, the UW students simply study, have fun and don't give a damn about the latest issue of Vogue.
There are colleges where students still dress up for class. At the Southern school I attended, campus was plagued by designer labels and other wearable status symbols. Dressing for success was a creepy power game that had winners and losers. And the pervasive sense of formality bred all sorts of meaningless rituals.
Of course, we have our share of meaningless rituals here at the UW, too. But at least students can act them out in comfortable clothing.
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