Showing style at school

A fashion forward student experiments with unique looks

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photo courtesy of Connor Thelen

Junior Connor Thelen poses for a photo in a yellow jumpsuit. Wearing bold outfits to school has become a form of expression for Thelen in the last year. “Anyone can do it,” Thelen said. “More people are gonna support you than are gonna hate you. It’s just that the haters speak louder.”

By Morgan Weir, Millard West High School

As an underclassman, junior Connor Thelen dressed like most other high school boys; every week, he cycled through T-shirts and khakis. When students returned from online school last fall, Thelen took the chance to dress outside the box. Now, he walks into school in hand-painted sneakers and oversized sweaters, silver chains dangling from his neck. 

Planning his outfit has become his favorite part of the day. Instead of throwing on the first T-shirt he finds in his closet, he carefully chooses a fit that will make him stand out at school. Often, he reaches for pieces that express how he is feeling that morning.

“Connor’s style is definitely reflective of his mood when he is dressing himself,” friend Jason Aguilar said. “Every time we chat, his outfits match how he is talking and what he is talking about.”

For Thelen, junior year has been a time to try a variety of looks and styles, which means his closet is a mix of neutrals and bold colors. If he shows up in a pantsuit one day, he’ll show up in a crewneck and jeans the next. Some of his current favorite pieces include his oversized sweaters and a yellow jumpsuit. The range of style represents how friends describe his personality: fun, unique and unpredictable.

“Connor has a really unique style, and he himself is really unique,” friend Khushi Patel said. “He’s different from others and doesn’t care what others think about him or his style.”

Like many teens, Thelen is figuring out how to best express himself, and fashion has become an outlet for self-discovery. High school gives him the freedom to test out new looks and indulge in his creative impulses. 

“I am definitely trying to develop my style,” Thelen said. “I think that’s kind of the point of high school, so we’ll see where it leads me. For now, I just do whatever I want. It’s always just ‘why not?’”

Exploring his style means expanding his wardrobe. He has had to be innovative about adding new pieces to his collection. He has found that versatile pieces, like jeans, that can be used in multiple looks often make for the best purchases. Trips to Kohls, H&M and Target to browse through the racks often turn into a mission to find the best deals. 

“I get my clothes from everywhere, anywhere cheap,” Thelen said. “I look at the clearance racks.”

A key technique in developing his own style has been pulling inspiration from other students. He looks at Instagram pictures and Snapchat stories to find ideas to build off. By keeping up with popular local styles, he is able to keep his looks fresh.

“I just look around and keep up with what’s trending,” Thelen said. “On New Year’s Day, when everyone was having parties, I was sitting there looking at the 2021 trends.”

Thelen’s propensity for mixing trends with bold choices led to an impulsive fashion decision; wearing stilettos to school. While it was an idea that he had been floating around for a while, it wasn’t until some encouragement from friends that, at the last minute, he decided to wear them. To Thelen’s surprise, other students were, for the most part, encouraging of his choice. 

“I got two negative comments that day which was unexpected,” Thelen said. “People probably said stuff under their breath, but the entire day people were giving me compliments, even my teachers.”

Thelen’s fashion exploration has been more than just a way to stay current and express his individuality; it’s become a way to build confidence after years of hiding. During his sophomore year, he posted a coming out video where he not only opened up about his own identity but also encouraged others who were looking to do the same. He hopes that the confidence he has found will inspire the people around him. 

“I know there are so many closeted people here, and I want them to know that it is ok to come out,” Thelen said. “If I can come to school wearing heels, you can come out. A lot of that is for other people, but it’s also for me to be like ‘I can be confident, and I am happy with myself.’”

For those who want to start their own journey of self-expression but aren’t sure where to start, Thelen has some advice.

“Look around at what other people are doing and Google what’s trending,” Thelen said. “[Fashion] is just living for yourself and being who you want to be.”

As he continues to develop his style, he hopes he will inspire people to feel comfortable expressing themselves at school. 

This story was originally published on The Catalyst on May 5, 2021.