I grew up in Kentucky, a location where if you don't live and die college basketball you're probably broken. Your wardrobe consisted of either red or blue, and lord help you if you wore both at the same time. When I moved to Hawaii, there was a good deal of state pride: taking the form of tattoos, flags, bumper stickers, and graffiti (in Hawaii, we have a special kind of graffiti: since the land is predominately black lava, people will create graffiti on it with white coral rocks, making it semi permanent but beautiful in its transience... I like to call it grafishy).
When I got to Oberlin, I guess I expected something similar to happen: that Obies have so many things to be proud of that we would shout about it from the rooftops from a crimson and gold megaphone while wearing rustic Yeoman garb. (Side note: I have now written this twice in an Oberlin blog post without ever looking up if such a thing exists. Maybe I should do that before saying it again.)
I should have known, based on the Obies I grew up around (my dad and all his hippie want-to-move-to-rural-Kentucky-and-farm-and-change-the-world-in-small-ways friends), that Obies are not boastful. When an Oberlin student or graduate talks, they do not cheer OB-ER-LIN or sing our fight song at the drop of a hat (yes, we have a fight song and it is not to be confused with our official Oberlin song). But every single word we say, every little action we make, drips in Oberlin pride. Many of our passions — academically, extracurricularly, or anything in between — were created or nurtured here. Oberlin thrives in everything we do, and if you ask, we will almost equivocally tout the wonders and greatness that is an Oberlin educational experience — though we may not say "YEO! Here is where my education is from!" outright. (See what I did there? I'm clever.)
I do not think this is an uncommon thing with small liberal arts colleges. At a larger state school, it is nigh impossible to escape school pride, especially if you have an extremely successful sports team. But at Oberlin, we have less of an excuse to display our pride outright. We're all here, and that's as much of a statement we have to make to tout our Oberaffection and Oberaffiliation.
While on campus, our pride tends to be a bit understated. We will wear our Oberlin shirts in regular rotation in our wardrobes (and not just on laundry day). We will drink coffee from our Oberlin mugs (and not just cause we get a discount on our energy fuel). We display Oberlin posters (new and old, printed and silkscreened) on our walls and doors (and not because we missed out on art rental). We keep our keys and IDs on Oberlin lanyards (and not cause we would otherwise lose them). We just don't make a point of displaying our Oberlin brands because someone tells us we should.
Now, when we leave Oberlin, our swag comes out. I *always* wear Oberlin shirts (and an Oberlin sweatshirt if it's cold/I'll be flying) when I travel. Not only does it make choosing my clothes for a trip easier/a complete no-brainer, but I will inevitably meet someone that has some association with Oberlin on my trip. And who doesn't want to meet someone that knows something about Oberlin? There is a high chance that that person is superb. And if they don't know a lot about it, you can tell them more. It's a win-win situation.
I will digress for a moment to talk about the wonder of effective Oberlin organizational branding, of which there are several excellent examples in my wardrobe. Here. I will model an example below:
Here is Ben, modeling O! with Clara on his first day back in Oberlin. He also wears Oberlin swag when he travels... it's like we're related or something :P
Ah yes, the simple yet understated OCircus O! I don't know who made it, or when, but hot damn, that person deserves like a million high fives. It's easily drawable, easy to put onto practically any round surface (oranges, juggling balls, tattoo modifications...) and it is incredibly recognizable. A fine example of this: my cousin lives and works in San Francisco, where he also trains at a local circus school. One afternoon, he saw someone wearing an OCircus shirt, bounded over (or maybe cartwheeled? I don't know what class he was in at the time), and asked if they went to Oberlin. The shirt-wearer in question, in fact, did go to Oberlin; it was the incomparable Mark Wessels '08, most famously known for unicycling on the tall unicycle while playing accordion (or while jumping rope, but not at the same time as playing accordion) on the Finney stage during Nocturne, the winter term circus my sophomore year.
OCircus has also had an ongoing tradition of creating shirts for the big spring show every year. At this point, I actually own enough OCircus branded material that I could, in fact, advertise OCircus every day of the week. That is some commitment right there, and it sure makes wardrobe decision-making easy during a particularly stressful week (read: things like finals).
Because I packed up a lot of my things at the beginning of the summer (long long story) I don't actually have a good deal of my OCircus shirts handy to photograph them for you right now, so I have decided to crowd-source and collect photos of my friends wearing circus shirts instead. What better way to show circus branding than on everyone, everywhere?
And then we have... circus away from Oberlin!
Surprise! Facebook has also provided me with photos of myself too.
But I digress. Circus is exciting, and I love it. Can't you tell?
OCircus is not the only place that you'll see some incredibly good Oberlin swag, filled with personality and fitting to the Oberlin lifestyle and wardrobe. The college student uniform (and my young adult uniform after work) tends to be jeans and tshirts. Something about cotton shirts says much about our likes and affiliations and has a common denominator of comfort just screams college to me (and to practically everyone else, too).
To start our first-year students off, there are the Oberlin class tshirts, sent in the mail yearly to the admitted students. Here are some gawgeous models from this year's class. (Shirt design by Joaquin Ruales '13.)
These are smiley first-years! They are all AWESOME. You could be them in the future :D
There are also shirts designed yearly for OSCA (and individual co-ops), and there are the ever-ubiquitous OSCA pines forest green hoodies. I remember, in my young years as a bright-eyed OSCA first-year, these beautiful hoodies that rarely left some of the Harkness veterans during any season (perfect for a wintry draft in the Hark basement or a spring breeze while eating lunch). When it looked like the sweatshirt was going to graduate with these old OSCAns, a serendipitous reprint has happily re-clothed yet another generation of cooperative Obies. I wear mine with pride.
There are shirts for so many other organizations, groups, trips, events, and more. Just wander onto campus any day and you'll see shirts from several years and iterations for the Day of Service, the Dandelion Romp, swing dance weekends, Folk Fest, OSCA, OCircus, WOBC, departmental shirts... (I won't even get started with these; they are so specific and so excellent that I could write a whole post on them).
We Obies may not wear our pride as sleeve tattoos, but we will drape them on our torsos. Happily. And not just on laundry day.
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February 16, 2021