In many ways, England is not much different from Switzerland and other European countries I’ve been to before. However, one thing that seems uniquely British to me are the school uniforms.
I remember the first workday after I arrived at my place in Sheffield. I opened the blinds in the morning and looked down on the street. A handful of students were waiting at the traffic lights. All dressed in school uniforms. Of course I knew that in England they wear a uniform to school, but it was still unusual to see the students walking around in the city, they looked like in the movies. Even kindergarteners wear some kind of uniform clothing. Just as the thought of wearing uniforms all throughout education is unusual to me, so is wearing casual clothes to school for my British friends. One friend told me that the first time she didn’t have to wear uniforms anymore she realised how little clothes she owned. So she had to go shopping to have enough clothes to wear for the week.
Apart from the neat and tidy uniforms I have to mention dressing habits on nights out. This is something that many other exchange students noticed as well while being in Sheffield. Firstly, you don’t wear a coat or a jacket on a night out. Regardless of the harsh English weather students are out wearing nothing but sleeveless shirts and short skirts in the evening. Secondly, a night out counts as an occasion and you dress up for occasions. On one hand, this habit is a bit odd to me. Especially because for a lot of girls, that means getting their hair done, putting on very heavy make-up and dressing revealingly. That look is just not my cup of tea. On the other hand, I find it lovely to dress a bit differently for a special occasion. Not only is it fun to wear something more unique than you would in your everyday life, but this way you can also express your appreciation for a certain event. One can feel the pleasant anticipation even more while getting ready.
Furthermore, even dressing habits in everyday life differ slightly from what I’m used to seeing in Switzerland. I enjoy walking around the campus at the university, seeing what everyone is wearing. When I observe the outfits of the other students, I see a lot of variation, unusual pieces of clothing and bold accessories. It seems like the students here make more daring and bolder fashion choices. I guess clothing is not only seen as something functional (actually, it is not functional at all when I think about people refusing to wear coats, no matter how cold it is) but much more as a way of self-expression and a source of joy. Of course, clothing is also used for self-expression in Switzerland, but the individual takes on one’s outfits are much more subtle and there are only a handful of people who dress strikingly differently. In Sheffield this is not only limited to a couple of daring people or subcultures but it is a broader phenomenon. This playful way of getting dressed is something that I’m happily trying to adapt myself. Getting inspired by my fellow students I put together outfits that I usually wouldn’t wear at home. Not because I don’t like the way they look, but simply because I generally don’t put that much thought and effort into my outfits. I experience that it is fun to experiment with the way that I present myself. I hope to continue this habit when I return to Switzerland. Until then I’m looking forward to seeing more school uniforms, elaborate hairstyles and fancy outfits.