Welcome Back: Don’t dress to impress: the taxonomy of PittStart attire

By Shawn Cooke / A&E Editor

PittStart is a life-changing whirlwind of a weekend where incoming freshmen figure everything out and shed all insecurities about their imminent time at college.

Well, maybe not. But the countless two-day sessions provide students with a more assured foundation for college life — and highlight some unifying qualities among newcomers.

Most of these new students share a few blanket characteristics: the University-provided drawstring bags, the overly chatty and friendly demeanor and the neck-craning strolls past the Cathedral of Learning. Though they might seem to resist further classification, this mass of slightly nervous, emphatic and overwhelmed 18-year-olds seem to follow a specific taxonomy of dress.

While the categories aren’t foolproof, a majority of PittStarters find their way into one of the distinct outfit groupings listed below. Falling into one of the categories isn’t shameful or worthy of reproach by any stretch — a young college student likely hasn’t established a fully formed identity before Orientation Week. Whether or not a new student feels satisfied with the image they projected on day one really doesn’t matter, because four years (or five, or six) is plenty of time to carve a new path.

Category 1: The Pitt Spirit Club

School spirit’s an easy mantra to get behind, especially for new students. There’s no quicker way to feel at home in a new group than cutting through the pleasantries and simply finding out what its members have in common. Hence, one of the most popular outfit choices for PittStart attendees is Pitt paraphernalia. Whether it’s the generic gray tee from Admitted Students Day or the previous year’s Oakland Zoo design, Pitt gear sends the loud and clear message that, “Yes, I’m really excited for school to start!” There might be more effective ways to communicate this, such as screaming through Towers or bursting into a fountain of tears at the Cathedral’s base, but a University T-shirt jettisons the overt enthusiasm for subtle anticipation.

Category 2: The High School Athlete

Many PittStarters who were very athletic in high school don’t participate on Pitt teams  but opt to wear the T-shirts of their glory days. Reveling in past success can be common during the early part of college. How else can one separate themselves from the pack so soon into their career, while simultaneously attempting to gain a stronger status within the pack?

These assertions don’t come out of bitterness — from my brief stint in athletics, I can attest to the practicality of wearing old tees from a high school sport. Sometimes these shirts can be cheap — or even free — so it saves an extra trip to the mall. But it may be safer to break these out several days or weeks into your college career, instead of the first day of PittStart. They lose a lot of their self-importance on a lazy Saturday morning or during a gym workout.   

Category 3: The Sunday Bests

With first impressions comes the urge to overcompensate. Some PittStart attendees seem to think there’s a daytime party — or church service — included on the daily itinerary, given the high volume of way-too-nice clothing flooding the campus. You’d think some of these students might feel out of place, but there are just too many of them for that to be the case. An inviting appearance may be effective for sparking conversation, though the conversation will rarely be about said appearance. It might take an intentional bump, fall or book drop — at least that’s what the movies teach you.   

Category 4: The Enthusiastic Music Fans

I’ll admit it — I was guilty of falling into this category, sporting a baby-blue The Suburbs-era Arcade Fire tee on one of my PittStart days. The thought of coming to a place where more than two or three classmates enjoyed listening to one of my favorite bands was thrilling. I soon figured out that they were one of the biggest bands in the world. Turns out Mechanicsburg, Pa., doesn’t encompass all of America.

Wearing a shirt of your favorite band can sometimes spark conversations with other fans and might start some new friendships, but banking on a common taste in music isn’t always a fail-safe for making friends. There are just as many bad people who like your favorite bands as decent people.

Some of my best friends have nearly identical taste in music with me, while others haven’t even heard of my favorite bands — and that’s OK, too.