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Opinion: Why there is a fashion rebellion on Campus by Gen Z’s

The ongoing saga of self-expression versus institutional regulation, has seen the battleground shift to the campuses of universities in Kenya.

The recent surge in dress code enforcement by higher learning institutions has ignited a heated debate, with Generation Z at the forefront, using fashion as a tool for identity expression.

However, this rebellion through clothing choices has prompted university administrations to fight back with strongly worded memos and strict regulations.

A study titled “Clothing as an Element of Identity and a Trend of Self-completion in Generation Z in Colombia,” conducted in August 2023, shed light on the significance of fashion as a means of communication and self-completion for young individuals.

The study revealed that clothing serves as both tangible and intangible symbols, curated meticulously by Gen Z members to carve out their identities in private and public spaces.

However, this quest for self-definition has encountered two major obstacles.

Firstly, the study highlights the internal conflict faced by Gen Z, who often rush to define themselves through short-lived fashion trends perpetuated by the fast-fashion industry.

This relentless pursuit of hyper-specific personalities can lead to frustration and depression when individuals fail to keep up due to financial or sociocultural barriers.

Secondly, the study pointed out the blurred lines between original content and its reception by Gen Z, potentially pushing them to extremes.

Whether it’s the pressure to emulate certain lifestyles or the normalisation of behaviors that degrade self-image, the consequences can range from feelings of inadequacy to acts of violence.

In response to these cultural shifts, universities in Kenya have taken decisive measures to uphold traditional values and promote professionalism through strict dress codes.

Institutions like Moi University, Masinde Muliro University, Mount Kenya University, Kenya Methodist University, and Daystar University have issued bans on various clothing items deemed “indecent” or “unofficial.”

While some argue that these regulations restore dignity to learning environments, others view them as encroachments on individual freedoms.

The clash between self-expression and institutional conformity underscores the complexities of navigating identity in a rapidly changing world.

As Gen Z continues to challenge societal norms and redefine cultural boundaries, it’s imperative for both institutions and individuals to engage in constructive dialogue.

Rather than resorting to draconian measures, universities should strive to create inclusive environments that respect diverse forms of expression while fostering a sense of belonging and professionalism.

In the end, the fashion rebellion on campus is not just about clothing; it’s about the fundamental human need to be seen, heard, and understood.

It’s a call for recognition and acceptance in a society that often struggles to keep pace with the evolving identities of its youth.

Mary Wangare an avid Tiktoker told Nairobi News, “The memos may dictate what we should wear but we still find a way to wear what we like and is fashionable and trendy without getting in trouble. However, I feel like what you wear has zero to do witb learning so those memos do not make any sense to me.”