At Princeton University, the vernal equinox is most significant not for its astronomical or agricultural implications, but for the monumental shift it brings to the undergraduate wardrobe. Nantucket red shorts, floral sundresses, and all variety of Ray-Bans are suddenly omnipresent, adorning the nubile bodies of even the most diverse members of the student population. It is as if a tidal wave of preppiness crashed over campus and magically left behind a piece or two of pastel-colored flotsam hung neatly in the closet of each pupil, or else perhaps Santa Claus made his rounds from dorm to dorm, but instead of being outfitted in his signature jolly Coca Cola-red robe, he wore a fashionable pair of powder blue slacks from J. Crew.
But what if, for some reason, Preppy Santa forgot to shimmy down your chimney? You suspected he wouldn’t be interested in partaking of your stale plate of leftover kosher-for-Passover cookies, but you never considered what you might do in case he actually didn’t show, and that charming canary yellow polo on your springtime wish list never materialized in your polo drawer. Luckily for you, I have faced these very circumstances myself, and lived to tell the tale. On behalf of the Nassau Weekly, I am proud to present my Guide to Spring Fashion Survival for the Frugal, the Indolent, and the Otherwise Unprepared.
(Warning: If your friends are cooler than mine, following my advice may result in defamation, shunning, or even complete social exile. Then again, if your friends are in fact cooler than mine, you can probably avoid this situation to begin with by hitting up whatever number you’ve already assigned to Vineyard Vines on your iPhone’s speed dial.)
Here are the conditions on the ground: It’s 85° outside and you haven’t done laundry in a fortnight. Your body is not in its prime: After refraining from leavened bread for a week, you’ve spent the past two days gorging yourself on pastries, and have developed something of a chametz gut. Additionally, the chronically ingrown toenail on your right foot is, as always, extremely sensitive to the slightest prod or brush, and your frequent bouts of pedal agony show no sign of spontaneous termination. The day’s expected proceedings require attire as close to business casual as you can make it. You have ten minutes to dress before hustling to class. Oh shit, you just spent five of them trolling the dailyprincetonian.com comment boards. Go!
Two words: droopy collar. Had this been a regular day, you’d be fine throwing on one of your six large shapeless heather gray tees; as it stands, however, you’ve got an afternoon teatime discussion at Prospect House to attend, so you’ve got to kick it up a notch with some buttons and a collar. You have that one floppy polo hanging over the footboard of your bed but you just wore it yesterday, so that’s on the maybe list. A quick rifle through the closet reveals a pair of gaudy Hawaiian shirts, but those are pretty much reserved for Cinco de Drinko—we’ll call that a maybe too. You remember bringing a guayabera from home so you poke around your not-yet-unpacked duffel bag, but it’s not coming up. Back to the closet you return, and this time between the wrinkled long-sleeved button-downs you’ve pathetically neglected to iron for months, you discover a wrinkled short-sleeved button-down you’ve pathetically neglected to iron for months. It’s orange and has vertical stripes of weird arabesque medallions, and you’re pretty sure your brother used to wear it in middle school and sometime in the intervening twelve years it found its way into your closet, but what’s important is that it also has a collar, albeit a collar awkwardly folded on itself in the kind of way that an iron would do a really great job of straightening out. That long strip of cloth with the button-receiving holes is a little screwy too, but for right now you’ll operate under the obviously false self-assurance that that area gets covered anyways. You open up your sock-and-undies drawer looking for a beater, and you find one nestled in the corner that upon closer inspection you’re pretty sure belongs to your roommate (yours are Hanes, his are Fruit of the Loom; yours are scattered on the floor around your laundry hamper, his are hidden in odd crevices throughout the bedroom). You put on both garments, and in the correct order. Your torso is now sufficiently concealed. Congratulations!
Two words: cargo pockets. Unlike your quest for a shirt, your search for appropriate shorts is quick and straightforward. You pull out the drawer that contains your shorts and obsolete basketball jerseys (get ‘em cheap from the NBA store online, wear them every day at summer camp and never again, repeat) and pull out the only pair of shorts that could possibly maybe match your whacked-out shirt; they are dark grey and cargo-pocketed. Elastic-banded athletic shorts are unfortunately not an option, nor are the fancier but seriously patterned non-cargo specimens. As it turns out, the cargo pockets come in handy later when you exit the Prospect House teatime discussion bearing a napkin-swaddled buffet of smoked salmon finger sandwiches on your left thigh.
Two words: orange Crocs. Like your beaters, your athletic socks are all dirty, so sneakers are out. You have several colorful and exciting pairs of dress socks, but you can’t really wear your dress shoes without risking serious pain from your pesky right toe, and besides the whole cargo-shorts-and-dress-shoes look is more appropriate for July than April (throw in your replica Pistons-era Iverson and you’re looking dank). Also in the Crocs’ favor is their ease in wearing— you just slide your feet right in and never look back, or down. Their fruity hue is an added bonus: You bought the mango-colored clogs because, like your basketball jerseys, they were available for heavily discounted purchase on the Internet; the innocent mien of school spirit they bestow is an extra little perk. By the way, your go-to sockless shoes are Crocs and not a way more fashionable flip-flop offering like Havaianas because toe thongs always felt gross and uncomfortable to you, and as we have seen, you are not one to suffer excessively for fashion. Besides, it’s not just lame dads who wear Crocs—gardeners and surgeons and boat people are into them too, right?
Two words: oh shit. You actually own a pretty decent pair of purple sunglasses you bought for five bucks from a street vendor in the city, but you only realize this halfway down the stairs and eight minutes late to class. Ah well, it can’t really be that bright outside—YARGHGH
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So there you have it, ya lazy cheapskates. As it turns out, dressing a couple of grades below springtime fashion isn’t so hard after all! Should you have any questions on the finer points of almost-but-not-quite getting by with your clothing, please feel free to drop me a line; in all probability I won’t be out shopping.
No seasonal style guide is complete without a concluding bit of razor-sharp analysis, and indeed, my episode of frantic clothes-hunting taught me two important things. First, though the thought seems silly upon reflection, people who consider themselves generally tolerant and liberal, including myself, really do care a great deal about the colors and consistencies of the threads that humans use to obscure our nipples and genitals, and wearing the wrong weave can result in serious shame. Frugal and indolent though I am, acquiring and maintaining maximally beneficial clothing can be expensive and time-consuming. It is a tragic quirk in our social history that a man might be warmly embraced within or callously dismissed from the company of his peers based solely on the flatness of the flap of cotton or linen around his neck. This might sound hyperbolic, but consider the hours at the mirror you spend before a job interview, or a first date, or a thesis defense, or a funeral. We care about our clothing because we care about the clothing of others, because we use our shirts and pants and skirts and ties to convey our senses of competence and warmth and propriety and personality, often more strongly and always more immediately than we use our smiles, or our caresses, or our words.
Second, Saint Nick prefers Tastykakes.