Feature

The Lafayette Look: Conformity and ‘Flex Culture’ in Modern Suburbia

// Two-story cream-colored homes, clean black paved streets, and precisely cut lawns: conformity has long existed as a staple of suburban areas. While the 50s-esque linear rows of identical houses do not appear in Lafayette today, some feel the culture of conformity remains in other aspects of the town.

   Conventionality in suburban areas often requires a certain degree of wealth. Students identify that under their classmate’s polished display of clothing, cars, and houses lies a community accustomed to comparison. How do status and wealth drive a cycle of comparison and “social camouflaging”? Blueprint investigated the things we see each day on the bodies of our classmates, in the parking lot, and on our very own streets to define the “Lafayette Look”. 

Fashion

   Although the definition of fashion remains unique to the individual, it generally falls along a spectrum ranging from the free form of self-expression to the adherence to popular trends. 

   Those who view fashion as a means of self-expression usually focus on the abstract, more creative elements that an outfit can offer.   

   “Everyone has their own style. Everyone has their own collage to make. Whatever you feel confident in and what makes you you is going to make you feel the most confident when you wear it,” sophomore Caroline Crossland said.

   For some fashion even evokes an emotional experience, as one uses material clothing and accessories to convey how they feel to others.      

   “Fashion, to me, is more than just clothes. It’s about how you feel on any given day and how you choose to express that feeling to the world,” Teen Vogue fashion columnist Kara Nesvig said. “There’s a lot of power in feeling confident and you feel more confident when you’re all dressed up in your favorite clothes.”

   Those on the other end of the spectrum, however, believe that one’s style is used merely as a means of projecting a certain image.

   “People are just trying to fit in and wear trendy, expensive stuff. Even if it’s stupid like Supreme,” sophomore Kyle Thomason said.

   Though drawn to fashion for more personal reasons, Nesvig also recounted times when outrageous clothing was worn solely because it was ‘in’.

   “Clothing is how we express ourselves, but it’s also how we fit in. When I was a teen in the mid-neighnties, we all wore super low-rise jeans, belly rings, and baby tees because that’s what we saw represented in magazines and TV,” Nesvig said. 

    As for Acalanes students, fashion exists somewhere in between these two attitudes. In a school-wide survey conducted by Blueprint, 54 percent of Acalanes students defined fashion as a mixture of both keeping up with trends and self-expression. 

   According to students, trends proliferated in the middle school environment, as many remember with the Ugg and Lululemon craze of the mid-2000s. 

   “Throughout middle school, we were trained to wear only Pink and Lululemon–you literally had three brands to choose from and anything else was seen as uncool,” senior Aly Sheehan said.

   While trends continue to change, fads still guide individual styles at the high school level. 

   “I notice a lot of people dress the same wearing the same clothes and styles,” senior Eddie Gray said.

    Gray is not alone in recognizing a particular pattern of styles and stores well known by the student body.

   “I think that Brandy Mellville is the basic store to get clothes from but I am more of an Urban and Free People type of person except it is super expensive,”  junior Ellie Palma said. “I think now, people are trying to look more chic and trying to be super cool and edgy.” 

   While some denote a ‘trendy’ individual as one who displays a unique sense of style, the term can conversely be used to describe conforming to the ‘look’ of the moment. Many use the latter definition to escape potential social outcasting. 

   “I think it’s a matter of not wanting to stand out because you’re scared of ridicule,” senior Aly Sheehan said. “Once you get to a certain age you have more perspective and feel like it’s ok to dress how you want, but it’s hard to see that when you’re always in a group mindset and not wanting to be the person that stands out.”

   Acalanes High School psychologist Emily Reichardt analyzes trends and the urge to ‘fit in with the crowd’ from a cognitive perspective.  

   “We are social beings and we have a desire to fit in. Some people don’t care and do not want to conform, but for the most part, people want to be accepted as a part of the group,” Reichardt said.

   According to Reichardt, a longing for social acceptance drives individuals to chase trends. 

   She describes how this appears in more affluent communities, where individuals possess the financial means of purchasing the latest fashion rages. According to Reichardt, this ability nourishes a uniformity of high-priced style that some recognize as unique to suburban communities.

   “If you’re in that culture then you kind of adopt the styles everyone else has unless you’re like really independent,” junior Kate Stelver said.

  Clearly, environment and culture play a large part in influencing fashion norms. Exposed to both urban and suburban settings, Riana Buchman, Acalanes alumna and current student at Northeastern University in Boston, compares the prevalence of trends between the two. 

    “I do notice that I see more people who have unique styles in Boston than I saw in Lafayette, where everyone pretty much wore the same things,” Buchman said.    

   Reichardt identifies a similar divide between urban and suburban styles.  

   “In an urban environment, there are so many more people and identifying with a group may look different. We don’t have as many subdivisions of people in a suburban environment than an urban environment,” Reichardt said.

   Lafayette’s lack of socio-economic and cultural diversity offers an explanation as to why it does not present a variety of styles like those seen in cities. Accordingly, some students feel that the ‘Lafayette Look’ is a uniform, pricey one. In a survey conducted by Blueprint, 37 percent of Acalanes students report that more expensive clothing makes them feel more comfortable in the Lafayette environment.  

   “Lafayette definitely values high-end clothing–well maybe not necessarily high end–but expensive clothing, so Urban Outfitters, Free People, Lululemon…we sometimes spend too much time, effort, and money on the clothes we wear,” junior Zoe Weinstein said. “There is definitely a stereotype of wearing expensive clothes just for the brand names.”

    Some feel that this goes beyond a surface-level stereotype and claim that there is an expectation for expensive, popular clothing in the community.

   “I think that it is a norm in Lafayette to have nice things, and when someone doesn’t have these nice things they are left out and feel abnormal, and that brings a sense of shame,” senior Chambit Miller said.

   The consequence is subtle: partially brought upon an individual by oneself but also stemming from the orthodoxy of style within the community.

   “I don’t feel judged but I know that there is a standard that people have to meet, so everyone dresses the same because they don’t want to stand out,” sophomore Brooke Palma said.

   Most identify fear as students’ motive to swim with the tide of popularity.

   “You don’t want to fall at the bottom of the social order, but you also don’t want to stand out. There is a certain status symbol that surrounds buying the latest trends and showing people that you have the money to be able to keep up with new trends. That’s why there might be more homogeny here,” Reichardt said.

Cars

   A quick glance at the Acalanes parking lot reveals the prevalence of one particular car: the Jeep Wrangler. The sleek, boxy, four-wheeler provides the ultimate car fantasy for many teenagers. As one of the most coveted cars among students, it is no surprise that school records count the Jeep Wrangler the second most popular vehicle in the Acalanes parking lot.

   “You see a lot of Jeeps in the parking lot, which I think is interesting because I don’t think a lot of people use Jeeps for the purpose they’re designed for,” senior Nate Sherman said.

    Although designed for off-roading excursions, the Jeep Wrangler has become a hot commodity among teens rather than a functional vehicle. It appears as though the ‘Wrangler craze,’ is no different from any other trend in that the most concrete explanation of its popularity is that ‘everyone else has it.’   

  “I think that the reason why everyone wants a Jeep Wrangler is because so many people have them. The fact that so many kids drive Jeeps just makes them more desirable,” senior Daphne Ganter said.

   Junior Jessie Lin notices other pricey manufacturers, such as Mercedes Benz and BMW, among the variety of vehicles driven by Acalanes students. While often hand-me-down cars from parents, these pricey models would likely be considered a rarity in the average parking lot of a public high school. In fact, according to a Blueprint survey 93 percent of students find that the number of expensive cars in Lafayette is greater than in other areas.

   “I used to be weirded out when I saw a kid with a nice car, but I don’t think they should be criticized for it because it’s just their life and they’re really lucky to have it,” junior Shelby Suppiger said.

    While cars undoubtedly serve as a representation of economic status, students are not quick to associate price with personality. 

   “A car can represent your status and wealth but I don’t think it can really say much about you,” senior Chase Nelson said. 

   Others, though, perceive the ‘flaunting’ of luxury vehicles as an attempt to project wealth.   

   “It’s just a flex thing–it’s the same reason why people buy Gucci belts. It’s materialism and consumerism at its finest,” senior Aly Sheehan said. 

   Some believe the general affluence of Lafayette normalizes materialistic tendencies in the community. However, those who do not possess the financial means of such an expensive lifestyle may hold a different attitude. 

   “If someone is brought up without financial struggles, I think they would not think twice about buying an expensive car because to them it is not a luxury, it’s how they have been living their lives,” Lin said.

   Naturally, those accustomed to living without financial burdens tend to sit comfortably in expensive vehicles. On the other hand, less well-off students may be more concerned with their vehicle’s variation from those of their peers.  

   “I don’t think kids consciously separate themselves from kids who don’t have as much material wealth as them, I think it is actually the kids who aren’t as well off as other kids that subconsciously feel inferior and separate themselves because the entitled kids are usually just so unaware of how much they have,” senior Chambit Lee said.

    Accordingly, 22 percent of students reported feeling self-conscious about the car they drive in a survey conducted by Blueprint. Such findings confirm that a portion of the student body believe high prices are required for a sense of belonging in the Acalanes parking lot. 

   “Lafayette is a very affluent area so you kind of need to show that you’re wealthy to fit in. If you’re not, you’re low-key outcasted,” Sheehan said. 

   According to some, though, such a belief is more a product of one’s perceived isolation rather than a wealth requirement enforced by the community.   

   “I think considering that it is a wealthier area, it’s kind of almost a standard that people do have nice cars. So I wouldn’t say it’s an expectation, but I would say it’s something that people do,” Sherman said.

Houses

   It is no secret to students and home buyers alike that Lafayette’s real estate prices are expensive. Due to a lack of people selling their homes and the desirability of the area, Lafayette home prices continue to climb.

   “The average sale price of a house in Lafayette is 1.5 million right now. Since 2012, after the recession, every year there has been an increase in price,” Lafayette real estate agent Jane Smith of Jane Smith Homes said. 

   Smith, a real estate agent of 17 years, has watched Lafayette emerge as the most prized among the three Lamorinda cities. She notes that it even stands as one of the most sought after locations for homebuyers in the greater Bay Area.

   “Lafayette is considered the premiere, it is the most expensive area in the county and it is the most desirable because it is a beautiful area to live in. There are great schools and the community is very involved with their children,” Smith said.

   Likewise, students tend to associate the real estate of the area with a highly desirable style of living. 

   “Stereotypically, people would think of a big house, a big backyard with a pool, nice furniture, lots of expensive technology inside, and well-decorated,” senior Aly Sheehan said. “But I know that that is just not the case–it’s so varied.”    

   Despite the suburban stereotypes that ring true for many Lafayette residents, this does not reflect the living of the entire city. In fact, 25 percent of Lafayette residents are renters in hoomes or apartments, according to data from the US Census, Department of Finance. 

   Others in the area focus on the variety of design that introduce a sense of individuality to the area.

   “Usually Lafayette houses are unique. They’re not mass-produced…They’re kind of like quirky, I guess. They’re kind of fun and they stick out,” Sherman said.

   Though the architecture of homes may vary, homebuyers can be sure that high prices will remain uniform throughout the area. The majority of houses sold in Lafayette sell between 950,000 and 2-3 million according to Smith, while the lowest price one can purchase a house for is around 900,000 dollars. Smith adds that she recently sold a very basic, small home for that price yet still received over ten offers on the listing.

    In addition to great expenses, the interior of homes–those on the market that is–also remain relatively consistent. In regard to house staging, Smith notes that a specific look must be presented to buyers seeking a home in Lafayette.

   “They are looking for a certain image,” Smith said. “You make it look like a Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware catalog.”

   The image and hefty price tags typically attached to Lafayette homes leave some with the impression that a level of affluence is required to fit in with the neighborhood.  

   “I think there is for sure an expectation for people in Lafayette to have expensive things. I know someone that was too ashamed to bring friends over to her house because she was embarrassed that she didn’t have her own bathroom,” senior Chambit Miller said.

   Likewise, in a survey conducted by Blueprint, 33 percent of students reported that they have lied about not being able to have people over or suggested going to a friend’s house because their friend has a nicer house. 

   Although, the trend of comparison and fear of social ridicule seems to follow students of all income levels. 

   “I have been embarrassed to have people over because my house is fairly big and sometimes people assume things just because of the size of my house. It makes me feel really uncomfortable because it is my parent’s money, not mine,” junior Isabel Powell said. 

   Powell describes the awkwardness surrounding students’ examinations of one another’s financial situations.

   The comparison of residency, like the comparison of clothing and cars, again leads students to express feelings of stress and fear of isolation from their classmates.  

   “I think that it goes back to wanting to be like everyone else. So whatever it is in your community you want to have it too,” Reichardt said. 

Categories: Feature

Leave a Reply