I would rather stub my toe repeatedly than wear my high school’s merch in public. It’s not that I had a horrible high school experience or that my school colors were particularly unpleasant; my high school gear is just an eyesore that I would rather leave in the past. Why linger? In fact, I use the high school hoodies that I guiltily packed for college as makeshift hair towels on laundry day. I’m now trading out my faded blue and maroon for new, tags-still-on blue and maize — two colors that fit together much better.
I, without shame, regard Michigan gear as the epitome of high fashion. When I rifle through my closet, trying to choose an outfit, my gaze falls on my Michigan hoodie. Or my Michigan T-shirt, or my other Michigan hoodie. Often, I relent, throwing on a pair of jeans or leggings underneath (or on a lazy day, my Michigan sweats). See how versatile? The outfit provides simplicity and comfort, but just the word “Michigan” etched on the front makes the look remarkable. I see countless students sporting similar looks and feel a sense of pride not only in this school but in myself for leaving behind what was comfortable and instead pursuing growth and challenge.
When I told people I was going to the University of Michigan after high school, congratulations were never in order. Instead, their eyes would bug and they’d gasp, “Wow! That’s so far!” That was part of the appeal. I always knew that staying in New Jersey would never serve me, despite the fact that I am, admittedly, a creature of habit. Change scares me. But though it would have been more comfortable to stay close to home, keep my minimum wage job and think about my future only in horoscope-reading scenarios, I knew I could do more. I’d always dreamed of being a writer, but how could I have material to write about if I decided to stay close to home? Who wants to read about a girl who had the chance to change her life and chose not to? I knew I had to be adventurous and chase after the fresh, albeit scary new life I could build for myself at the University of Michigan. I chose to disconnect myself from all that I called home, knowing that if I let myself linger there, if I left a part of myself in New Jersey, I would never grow.
Finally coming to Michigan, it felt like I had entered a new universe. People awoke at the crack of dawn for game day, it was no longer embarrassing to sing the school song (or in this case, our fight song) and I felt so much belonging when I could wear my maize and blue and find so many people donning the same colors. I could finally have an education that not only challenged but excited me. I signed up for an Introduction to Creative Writing class, where I was able to study what I’m passionate about alongside equally dedicated and enthusiastic writers.
Therein my newfound style was born. Wearing Michigan gear helps me feel connected to the community here, with some people from New Jersey like me, while others show me the palm of their hand to indicate where in Michigan they are from. Wearing my obnoxious, mustard-colored clothing is also a sort of homage to myself. The ambition, the drive for success, it’s all seeped into the fibers of the clothes I, and other Michigan students, wear.
When packing to return to New Jersey, I find myself stuffing all of my Michigan gear tightly in my deceptively small suitcase. I even pack the free hoodie that PNC bank gave out the first week of school. I did not come to Michigan with these items in tow, and I’m sure my mother wouldn’t like to hear that this is how I spend my money, but I can’t imagine parting with this clothing. Coming back to New Jersey for the first time since becoming a University of Michigan student feels like putting on a shirt that’s two sizes too small. I need room to grow, room to explore greater possibilities. So I choose to wear my maize and blue.
Daily Arts Contributor Irena Tutunari can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.