As a wearer and lover of stash, I thought I would respond to an article, published by the OxStu, in which my beloved stash faced the opprobrium of a fellow student who sadly misses the point of stash altogether.
I proudly admit to owning a plethora of different articles of stash, which includes a puffer jacket, a hoodie, a keep cup, and a bag, just to name but a few. They are all useful and have their purposes. Stash items operate as unifying goods in that they bring people together, solidify group membership and foster community spirit. By inspiring students from different colleges to compare puffer jacket designs, stash stimulates dialogue and acknowledgement that we are all ultimately one community of students experiencing the uniqueness of Oxford.
I believe stash can have a far greater meaning than has been suggested. My colleague describes stash as a “waste”, commenting that “You are students! This is your chance for adventure style wise, the world of employment will be unforgiving when it comes to experimentation, and you’ll be there for a rather long time, so seize the chance that the dilettante, library-heavy life of a student offers with both hands”. It appears that my colleague is offended by mere items of clothing.
I would like to take this opportunity to debunk some of the assumptions made by my colleague in the above sentence. Firstly, there is an inference in this instance that we will all go into finance roles in the city in which there is little or no room for creative dress. Recently, however, research by The Independent has suggested that conceptions of what constitutes work attire are shifting. Fewer and fewer men don suits, while more women feel enabled to embrace casual dress which exhibit personality. Evidently then, in reality, the world of employment may not be as stylistically unforgiving as my colleague suggests.
“By inspiring students from different colleges to compare puffer jacket designs, stash stimulates dialogue and acknowledgement that we are all ultimately one community of students experiencing the uniqueness of Oxford.”
Secondly, by arguing that rather than donning stash, students ought to “dress like a member of the Sugababes circa 2003”, “wear wedding dresses to seminars”, “wear terrible hats,” and “charity shop overalls”, my colleague was making the erroneous assumption that experimentation and stash wearing are mutually exclusive pursuits. Rather, students can be stylistically expressive one day, while wearing stash the next. I do indeed see Oxford students experimenting, trying out and putting together outfits in creative and quirky ways. I for one do not always wear my stash, but when I do, I find it comfortable and liberating to throw something on without having to think about it too hard. Oh, and on a separate note, I love my college and I am more than happy to represent (cough cough) the best one there is in Oxford.
I do not believe that those of us who wear stash do so solely to show everyone that we go to Oxford. Of course, there is no denying that some do, but I think it is more nuanced than just a form of bragging. Regardless, even if people do wear stash for this reason, surely being proud of the university you go to and celebrating having worked hard to get here with a hoodie doesn’t hurt anyone? In reality, most people in the city will be quite aware that at least half of the young people hanging around OX1/2 are in fact Oxford University students, and so surely wearing stash doesn’t suddenly make people more aware of our presence than they would otherwise have already been.
Describing stash as a “strange uniform” oscillating “somewhere between insecurity and conformity” belies the positive conversation starter and icebreaker moments stash creates. For example, whilst waiting in the queue for Bridge with a large group from college, I saw someone in the queue who was wearing a Brasenose jumper. On sight of this jumper, a conversation was instigated that might not have taken place otherwise. What about sports stash and wearing rowing or rugby regalia? Should all of this be ended? I think not.
“When walking around Oxford, it’s interesting to observe how people treat you differently when they see you are an Oxford student.”
Further still, rather than stash-wearing being a wasted opportunity to experiment (which, by the way, many students do anyway), when else apart from in your student life will you be able to wear stash? Whilst I would have no issue wearing stash in my 40’s, (don’t judge me), realistically most people won’t wear it past graduation or a few years after, and so this is actually the perfect time to do so.
Most importantly, stash can shield some of us from racist micro-aggressions. It provides a buffer against those who have bought into racist stereotypes about black bodies. When walking around Oxford, it’s interesting to observe how people treat you differently when they see you are an Oxford student. People suddenly seem more relaxed when seeing you, in shops people treat you with respect. Just the overall apparent surprise on people’s faces when they see the stash is telling, highlighting that if it wasn’t for the stash people would be viewing me completely differently. With relatively small amount of black British students here already, people do not automatically see you and think student. Seeing us in stash forces them to reassess their unconscious bias. Obviously, nobody should have to be wearing stash in order to negate racist stereotyping or to shield black students from being imagined as something that they are not, but we all know how racism works (well, I hope we do), and if anything provides a safeguard against racist stereotyping – I’m all for it.
Lastly, although I don’t drink, just imagine if I was completely drunk after a night out and was curled up in a ball somewhere not able to speak. My stash could be the thing that allows someone to return me back to college in peace. So, stash isn’t bad after all, think of it as a name tag – you’ll never get lost.