82% of CVHS students report using appearance as self-expression

82% of CVHS students surveyed reported using appearance for self-expression. From hair dye to hijabs, the appearance of the CVHS student body is one of the most diversely dressed in HISD due to the school’s dress code, which only asks for no clothing too tight, revealing, or vulgar. Many students even cite the school’s dress code as a reason for coming or staying.

“I think the school environment of being really accepting, everyone being really nice and not too judgy, allowed me to come into my own as a person,” said junior Chloe Philippe.

Philippe is among the many students at CVHS who express themselves through hair dye, piercings, and stylish clothing. Her colorful fashion, large star-shaped hoop earrings, and her bright purple, blue, and green hair allow her to stand out in a crowd, being one of the 23% of CVHS students to dye their hair. She’s somebody who likes to express herself through her appearance whenever she can, even if it may not always benefit her.

“People kind of create these judgments based on how they see you. And a lot of times, people will see your hair and think, ‘oh, she’s crazy,’ or whatever. But you don’t really know that until you get to know me,” said Philippe.

Many students at CVHS have found that choosing their own style does a lot for overall self-assuredness. Even if some found it scary to wear what they wanted to at first, it usually ended up helping their confidence, insecurities, and struggles with gender.

Maren Werner, a junior at Carnegie who mainly expresses themselves through their piercings, jewelry, and make-up, takes a photo of themselves in a dressing room. (Photo courtesy of Maren Werner)

Maren Werner, a junior at CVHS who is among the 60% that uses fashion as a form of self-expression, stated, “It helps me feel more confident.”

Ash is a senior at CVHS, and he found that fashion has been a central part of coming to terms with his gender presentation. He describes how he felt very obsessed with looking as masculine as possible back when he first came out as trans and began to present as a man.

“I used to stick very closely to having to pass as a cis man. Otherwise, the world will be over. I have to wear the most masculine clothes at all times. I can’t accessorize, I can’t wear any colors that are considered not masculine, so that was really restricting my expression, obviously,” Ash said.

Ash explains that once they began to allow themselves to dress the way they wanted to, life became a lot easier. His style is best described as colorful and fun- he is among the 45% of students that regularly utilize accessories as a form of self-expression. The confidence that expressing himself brought even helped him pass better. 

“It’s weird because when I was struggling to meet standards all the time, I got misgendered a lot more. Now, most of the people that I meet think I’m a cis guy, which is insane to me, because if anything I look more feminine now. I was no longer insecure and trying to prove something, and now I’m secure in my expression, and I can just kind of exist as the person that I am- I think that that affects how people see me,” Ash said.

However, many students interviewed stated that while expressing oneself through appearance is exciting and confidence-boosting, it also takes money. Even though there are ways to reduce costs, such as upcycling old clothing and going to thrift stores, most trendy, ethical clothing tends to be more expensive. In addition, piercings, hair dye, jewelry, accessories, and makeup can all be costly. About 18% of CVHS students responded that they didn’t use appearance for self-expression at all.

“A lot of the time, people who do express themselves through clothing often do it in a costly way, which isn’t always affordable and accessible for everyone. And I think it’s important to recognize all ways of expressing yourself- which doesn’t always have to be clothing,” said CVHS junior Jake Wolff.

Jake described that while he doesn’t express himself through his appearance, he does appreciate people who do. However, he thinks that viewing appearance as a central facet of self-expression is a little inaccessible. He prefers to express himself through his friendly manner and carefree attitude, which doesn’t take any money. Many students also choose to express themselves through what they like.

“I express myself through my interests, like the things I’m into- from media to actual things like instruments. I can play bass and the ukulele,” says freshman Jaya Evans-Moore.

Overall, while there are many ways to express oneself, the most noticeable is how one chooses to appear. Whether that be basketball shorts and a T-shirt, or a trendy plaid skirt and sweater vest, how one looks will always say something about a person, whether they put care into it or not.

As junior Abby Savitz said, “Whether projecting yourself through your appearance is important to you or not, it undeniably affects how people see you.”