Life at CSM: I Feel Pressure to Dress Up Just to Go to the Library
Written by Cody O'Connor
“I would’ve killed to wear tracksuit bottoms on some days, but I just couldn’t do it” explains Aswan Magumbe, a final-year Fashion Journalism student speaking on Central Saint Martins’ unspoken rule. Get dressed up, or go home.
The moment you step out onto Granary Square, you are surrounded by vintage, hand-me-downs and high-end gear. Designer school bags are everywhere, from Telfar shoppers to Vivienne Westwood totes. Some brands are worn more subtly. Take a pair of Maison Margiela split-toe Tabi’s, peeking out from under flared jeans. Meanwhile, these items can range anywhere between £160-920.
If you’re lucky enough, you might be featured in i-D’s favourite cult Tik Tok video, ‘What are CSM Students Wearing Today’. The result? I find myself spending 2 hours getting ready to go to the library, wearing stilettos and a mini skirt. “There is a pressure to dress up, as other students judge you on what you wear. If you look cool, people will want to talk to you, but if you don’t, they assume that your art won’t be cool either”, explains Leo Bursey, a third-year Womenswear.
Admitting to wearing fast fashion at CSM is absolute no-go. It’s understandable, given that sustainable practices are rightfully encouraged by tutors, but for some, buying from ASOS, Zara… and even Shein, may feel unavoidable. Then the imposter syndrome creeps in. While grey leggings and a black crop top were a perfect fit for my hometown social housing block in Waterloo, it left me out of place at university. It felt like every person I made eye contact with in the corridor that day looked me up and down.
The fashion industry loves to consume British working-class aesthetics, from TikTok’s ‘Blokecore’ obsession to Burberry’s complicated relationship with its check print, but it seems there is a struggle to embrace the actual working class. A 2021 report shared that only 28% of CSM undergraduates are from working-class backgrounds, the lowest out of all UAL colleges.
Speaking to Rosie Tonkin, a first year Fashion Promotion Student, it was clear that this was not only my experience, but others too. “I was born in South London but grew up in Maidstone in Kent, where most people are wearing tracksuits and leggings”. However, wearing the same at CSM, left her feeling “silently judged”.
We’re all guilty of being a little judgemental, especially in an industry that thrives on differences in taste. But as Aswan concludes, “the creativity is in the individual, not the clothes”. Anyone with a place at CSM deserves to be there as much as the next person, regardless of how they dress, and even if it’s ‘basic’.
Photography Credit: Héloïse Darcie