By Eric Harris’s sophomore year, he was “evolving”—and the changes were beginning to show. He had striven to fit in for so long, believing social status to be important, but during his sophomore year, he began shopping at Hot Topic and dressing in combat boots and all-black outfits, attempting to look “different.” His behavior became “boisterous and aggressive.” Girls at school still described Eric as “cute,” though he “hated” his appearance. Cullen writes that though classmates described both Eric and Dylan as “want[ing] to be outcasts,” the word “outcast” only meant that the boys rejected a “preppy” model. The boys had active social lives, and though being different was “difficult” for Dylan, Eric enjoyed it.
Eric made attempts to distinguish himself from his classmates. He wanted to be different, and to be seen as different. He believed he was of a separate, higher standing than everyone around him, and dressing distinctively was a way to signify that. He was never a social outcast, though, and neither was Dylan—though the myth of the boys as bullied outcasts preying on their tormentors still persists even in the present.
During Eric Harris’s sophomore year, Eric Dutro, another boy at Columbine, wanting to go as Dracula for Halloween. He purchased a long black duster—his friends referred to it as a “trench coat”—and the sophomore boy thought it was a “cool” item of clothing. Dutro hung onto it, and began turning heads at school. Kids called him a “freak,” but he wanted to give them a “freak show.” Dutro’s friends soon purchased trench coats, too, and when another student referred to their clique as “the Trench Coat Mafia,” the term stuck. Eric and Dylan were not among the students who made up the TCM, though their friend Chris Morris was. The TCM “heyday” died down, and Eric and Dylan purchased trench coats years later. Their choice to wear the coats during the massacre thus understandably caused “tremendous confusion.”
The confusion over the Trench Coat Mafia’s involvement in the Columbine shooting arose out of the media’s mistake in locking onto the theory far too early. Because it was a totally bizarre and quite frightening possibility, the media sensationalized the TCM, and repeated the story of their involvement so much that the “Trench Coat Mafia” is associated with Columbine to this very day.