Fashion and Segregation in Utrecht

The most difficult part about moving to Utrecht as a student is finding a room. Duh, everybody knows that. What is less known is how much your postcode matters. I learned this first-hand.

My apartment had a ceiling with three large skylight windows and a big balcony that was perfect for hosting the best post-exams BBQs. It even came with a dishwasher (this kept housemate-war at bay for a while)! One day I invited some fellow students home. “You live in Overvecht?! Ehm...better have drinks at my place instead! ”. While this reaction was no big deal to my Dutch friends, it hit me in unforeseen ways.

All of a sudden, bus number one felt like a scary place! What had changed? Had I internalized prejudice and there was no way to undo the damage, or was it?

My bus rides back home started becoming a mix between field study trips and therapy sessions between me and my new self, then tainted with prejudice. The vast majority of people on the bus seemed to mind their business, so I focused on the way they dressed.

Fashion can tell us a lot about someone. In my old college town in Italy, Bologna, many students wear what we sadly call ‘harem pants’ (far from being seductive, they are quite baggy), and/or loosely-fit shirts crammed with paisley designs. They do that to reconnect with a lost sense of freedom that dominated the college town in the long 1970s.

Going back to Utrecht, here students found their identity by occasionally wearing suit and tie (fraternity parties are always a good excuse!) and/or brown leather shoes. This style reconnects students with the late 19th and early 20th century, when going to university yielded a higher degree of privilege than it does today. International students tend instead to wear sweaters of dark or creamy tones even at parties, and pair them up with distinctive sneakers. All features that point to an appreciation for comfort that knows no boundaries in today’s youth culture.

As I was thinking about these two trends, I had a realization. Young Overvecht residents sitting next to me in the bus wore too dark or creamy garments and leather accessories with bicolour chess designs (a modern take on the ‘fraternity uniform’), and/or stylish flipflops (bringing the idea of comfort even further!). They have adapted and played with these trends in ways that can only be found in their neighbourhood, but that are unmistakably part of Utrecht’s fashion scene. Looking down on Overvecht – and by extension its young residents - is a way to avoid reality. No, us university students are not the centre of the universe!

Fast forward to today, I live in Tuinwijk Oost, just 800 meters away from Overvecht Station. While it’s nice to go for walks in Grift park nearby, I sometimes miss riding bus number one, unwinding after a day of classes and feeling part of something others could not see, yet.