Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Glowing personality: ‘Highlighter Kid’ Sam McLain is dressed to impress

Illustration by Jacob Wendler
McLain gained fame at NU after wearing a neon suit to the ‘Cats Retro Night basketball game against Maryland Jan. 17.

Amid a sea of roaring fans, one neon-clad student stood out. Donning a neon suit and cap to a Northwestern men’s basketball game, Weinberg freshman Sam McLain quickly became known on campus as the “Highlighter Kid.”

McLain’s fashion tradition began at a sleepaway camp in 2017 in rural Ohio, when someone called 12-year-old McLain a “highlighter” for wearing bright neon clothes.

The following year, McLain thanked his middle school peers for electing him student council president while wearing bright neon golf pants and a neon tie. McLain’s childhood love of bright neon, monochromatic athletic outfits cemented him as the “Highlighter Kid.”

“I’m very outgoing and very extroverted, and I try to be generally a very positive person,” McLain said. “I think (my clothes) compliment that expectation of energy and happiness.”

Months into his freshman year, McLain became a campus phenomenon after sporting his neon suit to NU’s retro-themed game against the University of Maryland on Jan. 17. Weinberg freshman Faith Magiera said students approach McLain on the street and compliment his vivid fashion sense.

Weinberg freshman Franke Gordon, McLain’s roommate, said people are often shocked when he reveals his roommate’s identity.

“In a crowd situation, you can always find him,” Gordon said. “He’s like a lighthouse and I’m like a boat. It draws you toward him.”

Gordon said it is easy to distinguish between each side of the room: McLain’s side is peppered with neon clothing, while Gordon doesn’t own a single neon garment.

McLain said his neon reserves pale in comparison to their prior stature. As he grew older, McLain ditched monochromatic neon outfits in favor of neon accents to complement his outfits after learning “not every neon goes with every neon.”

“As I’ve learned, some things go better with others — and even the fabric and the material can make all the difference in terms of if the outfit makes sense together,” McLain said.

Peers are often perplexed to see McLain when he is not neon-clad. McLain recalled how, on his way to a formal party and wearing a navy suit, a group of girls recognized him in the dark and asked why he wasn’t wearing neon.

Although his celebrity status brings expectations, it also brings joy to those around him, according to SESP junior Valerie Lippin.

“I think (his clothes) bring joy because they definitely light up a room — literally,” Lippin said. “I think it also inspires people to also be themselves and develop a unique style.”

Outside his “Highlighter Kid” persona, McLain plays rugby for NU’s club team, plays Survivor NU, sings a cappella for Extreme Measures, competes in NU Quizbowl and enjoys Taylor Swift, according to Gordon.

Karen McLain, Sam’s mom, said her son is a natural-born leader who cares deeply about every group he is part of.

“It’s been great to see him really thriving in the Northwestern environment,” Karen McLain said.

Despite his outfits’ unique aura, Sam McLain was not NU’s first “Highlighter Kid.” Instead, Sam McLain continues the tradition of McCormick junior Elijah Esparza, who began wearing monochromatic outfits in eighth or ninth grade.

Esparza said he feels camaraderie with his fellow “Highlighter Kid” and dresses in bright clothes to brighten others’ days.

“We’ll hang out sometimes and talk about bright colors and all that sort of stuff,” Esparza said. “I think it’s just fun. I don’t find it as a competition.”

Sam McLain said there is room for two “Highlighter Kids” on campus because he uses neon as an accent, while Esparza has a weekly schedule of monochromatic bright outfits.

Consistent with his nickname, Sam McLain said 30% of his drawers contain bright neon clothes, while much of his other clothes are neon-adjacent colors such as blue and pink.

Since he was first compared to a highlighter, Sam McLain said he has continued to embrace the nickname and has accrued countless neon accessories.

“In everything that I do — be it sports that I watch or games I play — I just have a lot of breadth and not necessarily a lot of depth,” McLain said. “But I kind of enjoy that. I like to get a taste of everything in life and I just have a love for life.”

Email: [email protected]

X: @IsaiahStei27

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