When temperatures drop, students pull out their winter coats, often unaware of the importance of their brand.
This article is featured in the special Winter Carnival 2022 issue.
In Dartmouth, winter means preparation. Freezing temperatures and the infamous ‘snowless day’ policy can make winter in the Upper Valley almost inhospitable, with every quick jaunt outside requiring layers upon layers. But by far the most important part of winter preparation is our jacket, the shield that protects students from the cutting winds as they head into a 9L. It is also the most remarkable element of a winter outfit. A handful of jacket brands dominate campus, but few stand out like Canada Goose and Moncler.
One of Canada Goose’s most popular styles is the Shelburne Parka, priced at $1,275. A typical Moncler jacket costs around $2,000. In Dartmouth, where about 52% of students receive financial aid, the ubiquity of these jackets might seem unbelievable. However, in a 2017 study published in the New York Times, researchers found that the median household income of a Dartmouth student is $200,400. They also found that 21% of Dartmouth students are in the top 1%, while 4.5% are in the top 0.01% income bracket. While these statistics are readily available on the internet, seeing them mirror campus reality clearly shines a light on the wealth gap in Dartmouth.
Ellie Brown ’25 said she was surprised by the amount of designer jackets on campus.
“I didn’t think it would be as widespread as it is,” she said. “If you think about it in a general sense, it’s a very small part of society that can afford to buy a thousand-dollar jacket for a season. But it’s everywhere. It’s more fascinating than anything else. This certainly reveals the socio-economic demographics of Dartmouth.
Although Brown’s mother offered to buy her a designer coat, she agreed, noting that it was “more of a status symbol” and that one can buy cheaper coats that are “equally warm, if not more practical” than designer coats.
Anell Paulino ’25 felt that many students were unaware of the wealth divide at Dartmouth.
“I don’t think some students recognize the privilege of some students here until they see the wealth markers like jackets or similar things,” Paulino said. “Personally, it reminds me of where I’m from and that I’m here for a reason. I’m here to get to a point where I don’t have to worry about getting the next paycheck. Seeing people flaunting their wealth is certainly very new and different, but, I mean, this is Dartmouth. I’m not surprised.”
In sociological terms, classism is a form of discrimination or prejudice based on social class. Although the fashion choices do not intentionally alienate others, they are symbols of the perceived difference between students who have wealth and those who do not. Sociology professor Janice McCabe, who is part of Money Matters – a group of faculty and staff dealing with affordability on campus – said brands like Canada Goose or Moncler act as symbolic indicators of class.
“Because we don’t usually know how much money people have in their bank accounts or how much other people earn, we use symbolic markers [like winter jackets] which act as a shortcut for the class,” McCabe said. “Clothing is an important marker because it’s often identifiable by people, especially if you’re more class conscious, some people may be more class conscious than others.”
Jeremiah Lozano ’23 noted that winter wear designer status creates a “gap” between students who have “stripped down winter clothes” and those who can afford winter clothes that “cost a lot more.” of $1000”.
For Paulino, class consciousness is an integral part of his experience at Dartmouth.
“It just reminds me of my place,” Paulino said. “Obviously I’m not rich and I’ll just say it, I’m not white. So that humiliates me a bit sadly. It reminds me that ‘ok, you’re here with a scholarship. You are [a first-generation, low-income]” student, and you have to work hard. No matter how hard I work, I still won’t be part of the “elite”. I am one of the outliers in this school,” she said.
The demarcation between the top 1% and low-income students can create a distinct dichotomy, even in a school located in a rural area that prides itself on being separated from outside influences. According to Aiden Casey ’25, the socio-economic divide between students inextricably creates a social ladder.
“I don’t want to say, but I’m definitely passing judgment on someone wearing insanely expensive clothes,” he said. “It certainly creates a distinct class hierarchy on campus. I don’t know if it’s still there, but it’s still in the background.
According to McCabe, a hierarchical influence exists due to a perception of having a different experience than the “traditional” or “average” perceived experience at Dartmouth.
Although Gavin Fry ’25 doesn’t prioritize designer brands, he’s also been under pressure trying to fit into what’s thought to be the Dartmouth experience.
“When I first came here [First Year Student Enrichment Program], I thought I had to change who I was a bit,” Fry said. “I thought I needed to get rid of my Southern accent, wear more prep clothes so people would recognize I was from a ‘decent’ place.”
However, Fry said his initial desire to fit in faded as he found his place in the Dartmouth community, adding that at the end of the day “we are all people”.
“While it’s more noticeable during the winter, it depends on how well you are able to recognize the difference and how it impacts you,” he said. “When the academics start knocking, it doesn’t matter how good you look in -10 degrees, it’s more about whether you’re comfortable or not.”
However, the ability to stay comfortable in winter temperatures can be a daunting task for low-income students. According to Lozano, a Texan, getting ready for winter took a lot of preparation.
“Personally, I mostly leaned on savings pop-ups happening here,” Lozano said. “I would take a bus and go to nearby towns to see if they had cheap winter clothes. The LL Bean gift card I received from FYSEP was also helpful.
Due to the extraordinary costs of winter clothing, FYSEP has offered a voucher program – in the form of LLBean gift cards – which helps low-income students purchase coats and boots. Jay Davis, FYSEP’s program director and head of the First Generation Office, said his team coordinates resources with other parts of campus to help low-income students.
“We work with partner offices on campus like OPAL and the Financial Aid Office to help ensure that the lowest income students in each incoming freshman class receive LL Bean gift cards – that’s our priority for every incoming freshman class,” Davis said. “We also did our best to reach out to sophomores who weren’t on campus in their winter freshman year to get some for them as well.”
The program has been of immense help to students coming from warmer climates such as Fry, who is from southern Missouri.
“When it was October in my first fall term, midterms were in full swing, I didn’t really have clothes on my mind,” he said. “I remember the day I got the email [about the L.L.Bean Vouchers]. It wasn’t just the gesture itself, but rather it was them giving us a list of what we needed. I thought [of a] big coat, maybe a slide or something. But they went beyond.
Davis has also partnered with the Office of Sustainability to host a late fall coat drive. Fry noted that FYSEP contacted him via email about the drive, which he found very useful.
“I’ve survived a month of New England winter so far,” Fry said. “But without FYSEP’s gesture, I wouldn’t have.”
Davis also helped expose students to possible wealth differences on campus during the Summer Arrival Program, hoping to start the conversation about class differences early.
“One of our goals with the FYSEP program in August was to help students understand that there will be people from all walks of life here, including students who can afford very expensive winter clothes” , Davis said. “We try to demystify that, and let them know what basics are, and that you don’t need a fancy coat or status symbols to stay warm.”
Although winter in Dartmouth may mean an enunciation of class differences, it is part of our daily lives – and a reminder of the greater economic disparities that exist outside of the College. However, acknowledging differences can lead to uncomfortable but necessary conversations about how students experience wealth and privilege – or lack thereof – individually. According to McCabe, students who own Canada Goose jackets may feel guilty talking about the issue because they may not be seen as working as hard or enjoying their privilege excessively. However, she thinks discussing class issues can help eliminate some of the feelings of alienation that can arise.
“Being ready to be vulnerable is one thing,” McCabe said. “It takes trust. And that takes time, it’s not something you can really do in a surface conversation. You need to be prepared to say the wrong thing and have a conversation with someone generous enough to let you down who won’t assume the worst of you. There is a risk on both sides. But it’s definitely worth learning about other people’s experiences.