High school life is portrayed the same way in every movie. Teen girls practically live at the mall and tote designer handbags, teen boys roam the halls in Nikes and Adidas that stink of product placement and you can tell who’s popular by what they wear.
At PHS, it is hard to find the caricatures of the teenagers embodied by movies like “High School Musical,” yet the brand obsession of the big screen has carried over to real life. According to “Taking Stock with Teens,” an annual study by investment banking firm Piper Jaffray, upper-income teens spent 38 percent of their money on clothing in 2016. This is believable considering the high prices of brands like Birkenstock and Lululemon.
Junior Anna Goldberg said that she thinks students wear trendy brands as a way to feel more confident.
“People feel more confident and secure if they’re wearing the same thing that everyone else is because they don’t want to stand out,” Goldberg said.
Goldberg said that students who want to feel like a part of the high school community may imitate peers.
“Sometimes, I need a new jacket and I just automatically think of those brands that I see everywhere,” Goldberg said. “It’s just what’s surrounding me.”
Purchasing certain brands in order to feel like part of a community is a common phenomenon, said Melissa Hughes, the Executive Creative Director at Charlotte Russe, a clothing store for millennials. Hughes said that the desire to be a part of the crowd may prompt the fads of brands seen in the high school environment.
“The brand allows you to belong to a certain group of people, whether you really belong to that group of people or not,” Hughes said. “It allows you to project that you belong with a certain crowd, or that you behave in a certain way, that you do certain things or you understand certain principles.”
The pressure to fit in described by Hughes may be more pronounced at a younger age, junior Annika Disney said.
“As freshmen, especially girls as freshmen, appearance is a lot to them, and they get really self conscious,” Disney said. “As they get more mature they realize that it’s not really about appearance as much as how smart you are, or what your actual personality is.”
Disney’s theory may be factually backed, according to a study from the University of Minnesota which indicated a correlation between self esteem and materialism. In other words, teens may compensate for insecurities with purchased items.
Freshman Walker Mahany said that although freshmen may be affected more, the pressure is the same for everyone, to some extent.
¨It’s a new school, it’s a different transition and you want to be a part of it,” Mahany said. “I feel like there’s that pressure everywhere. If your friends own something, you want to have it too.”
English teacher Matthew Klein taught in districts with high rates of poverty such as Mount Diablo and Hayward before coming to Piedmont. In those districts, the pressure to dress a certain way is even more overt, Klein said.
“Outward appearance was very important to the teenage population that I taught, not just at Castro Valley but in Hayward as well,” Klein said. “It was very important to have the newest shoes, to have the nicest clothes, because that was a marker of distinction and popularity and it demanded respect.”
Hughes said that name brand clothing acts as a status symbol universally, that ethnographic, demographic and socio-economic differences will have little effect on pressures that are intrinsic to the high school atmosphere.
“You always have that [pressure] because it’s like a microcosm of what society is,” Hughes said. “High school is the first time you really are exposed to a range of [ideas]. It doesn’t matter where you are, I think you are still going to have that.”
In the future, Hughes said that the brand pressure may decrease, as the “share culture” emerging may lead to less decisions based on status symbols. Share culture refers to the necessity of sharing living spaces, cars and food as the cost for living goes up, Hughes said.
Hughes also said that the diversification of affordable fashion will allow for more individuality and expression.
“You’ve got this larger kind of playing field in terms of price points and trends in fashion, so I think there is a lot more accessibility in terms of how you can dress and how you can look at school,” Hughes said.
Although affordable fashion may lower the pressure for brands, senior Josef Crombie-Presberg said that some pressures are natural and inherent in a high school atmosphere. He said that high schoolers will compensate by learning how to balance social pressures with individuality.
“I think there’s always gonna be just an inherent slight pressure to want to fit in and notice what everyone else is doing, but I think at the high school you learn to be more of an individual and care less about that,” Crombie-Presberg said.
Crombie-Presberg said that teenagers should attempt to acknowledge and move past the social pressures at the high school.
“[The pressures] should be observed and recognized and people should understand how it affects them and look within,” Crombie-Presberg said.
Hughes advises teens to experiment with fashion and style choices, and to avoid making decisions based on any brand pressure.
“I think the world is your oyster in terms of style and brands and fashion,” Hughes said. “It’s fun to experiment with your style and understand what makes you feel great about yourself and confident when you walk in a room, as opposed to whatever everybody else has.”