You just bought the most awesome sneakers. They’re baby-blue and green Converses and have a Koosh ball attached on the front of each shoe. You can’t wait to bust them out of your summer-camp duffel – until you see that no one else has anything remotely similar.
That is Chelsea Staub’s camp fashion story.
Though she plays the resident style expert on Disney’s new show “JONAS,” Staub was a late bloomer when it came to clothes. That never was more clear than when, as a fifth-grader, she ran into a problem familiar to campers: She brought an outfit that would have fit in at home but looked out of place in different surroundings and among different peers.
“Camp – that’s when fashion first hit me,” says the now-20-year-old.
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Staub packed what she thought was an acceptable wardrobe in her hometown of Scottsdale, Ariz., to bring to a Los Angeles-area camp, but quickly traded Kooshes for Keds. The white shoes were on the camp’s mandatory packing list, and her new friends taught her the trendy way to wear them was without socks.
Many camps have a list of required items – some are specific down to a uniform. Kids’ personalities tend to come out in their choices of scarves, bandannas and caps, says Peg Smith, CEO of the American Camp Association, and then they’ll figure out together the hippest ways to style them.
“A collective camp style will emerge,” Smith says. “You come in with the basics and not worrying about the fashion when you walk in the door – and you will still come out with a story.”
“It’s amazing what you can create with nothing. You’ll see everyone start wearing a bandanna a certain way,” says Danya Hardin, owner/director of Lake of the Woods Camp for Girls in Decatur, Mich.
There also sometimes is an “it” brand of shorts (recently Soffe), sweatpants (Abercrombie & Fitch) or flip-flops (Havianas), but those seem to be universal no matter what part of the country girls come from or what clique they belong to at home, Hardin says.
Kelsi Hines, 15, of Pittsburgh, has an urban-indie style. Still, she couldn’t live without her Adidas Sambas sneakers and tie-dye shirts at camp – and she wishes she packed another flannel shirt. And Emily Turner, 16, of Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., would have liked a few extra bathing suits in her rotation.
Campers are encouraged to bring their most casual clothes – except a slightly upgraded outfit for older kids who’ll have an evening camp social, says Hardin, who welcomes 7- to 15-year-olds each summer. Everything has to be wash-and-wear. Even then, expect that things will come home a bit dirty.
“What’s nice about camp is you don’t have to worry about your outfit like you do the rest of the year. That tank top you overwore to school – you can wear it again and again here,” she adds. “The joke is, if you brush your hair, people think you look really good. In a positive way, the bar is lowered at camp.”
Some kids see the weekslong break from their usual social circle as an opportunity to reinvent themselves, notes Smith, who says that freedom is frequently cited as a “positive” in camp evaluations. “One thing unique about camp is you get to be yourself. … You can let go of the pretense that follows you so many other places.”
Cabin walls are a safe place to experiment with a new look. “Camp was a great memory. It was a lot of growing up,” says Staub. “It was my first encounter with change. I learned about what’s cool, about lip gloss, I dressed myself and I learned about boys. It was a small dose of reality, of growing up.”