Observations on Vassar fashion, vast and all-encompassing

courtesy of Lula Hawkins

For the past nine months that I have been Arts Editor for The Miscellany News, I have desperately hoped that someone would write a piece about Vassar fashion. I’ve tacked the pitch onto lists of article ideas in countless weekly emails to writers, but nobody ever expressed interest. So, here I am writing this article, my last one as Arts Editor.

Vassar fashion is not an entirely original pitch—variations on this theme have been done before. By its very definition, though, fashion is always changing, and it’s been a while since someone has revisited the topic.

Approaching this article made me realize that perhaps its lack of traction was not due to disinterest, but rather overwhelmingness: What even is Vassar fashion? It’s so vast and sprawling that trying to contain it in a 1,000 word arts article is almost a disservice. This was also the consensus among the five students I reached out to on Instagram, drawn to each of their personal styles.

Ida-Rose Chabon ’24 expressed her appreciation for the wide range of styles present on campus. “I think the fashion at Vassar is really interesting because we have such a wide variety of subcultures,” she commented. “There’s a little bit of everything. We have the jocks and the goths, you can wear Sperrys or Demonias to the Deece.”

Chabon is an eBay enthusiast, thrifting almost all of her clothes. She defines her own style as “very Jewish Girl Goes French,” favoring an all-black look consisting of a mini skirt, sheer tights, off-the-shoulder top and leather bomber jacket. For shoes, she chooses hiking boots and to accessorize, a plaid shoulder bag.

She described Vassar fashion in comparison to its peer libral arts institutions: “Vassar fashion is flirty, homespun, knock off Bard fashion, elevated Wesleyan.” I think this is an interesting point to contend with—Vassar fashion is not inherently unique, but rather handpicks trends from wider liberal arts culture.

Similarly, Mahalia Hunter ’23 commented on Vassar trends’ correlation with more global trends and fashion featured on social media. She expressed, “I think most of the time trends at Vassar mirror what’s popular in the country at the moment, so I’ve also been seeing a lot of people trying out the trends that I’ve seen grow in popularity on social media recently.” Hunter uses social media as a tool to create her looks. “Most of the time I get outfit ideas from the various TikTok and Instagram fashion pages I follow or people whose style I’m trying to emulate,” she explained. Her own style spotlights the vintage pieces she has thrifted. Her favorite find: a Vassar letterman jacket from the late ’80s/early ’90s! 

courtesy of Earl Hunter II

Hunter has streamlined her day-to-day look. “Right now it consists of a good-fitting pair of vintage jeans or tailored men’s pants and a fun vintage t-shirt paired with different outerwear and shoes and a matching hat or vintage scarf,” she described.

Jack Kelley ’23 also likes to keep things simple: His go-to look is a baggy t-shirt tucked into cuffed jeans. Kelley echoed Chabon’s sentiments regarding the vastness of campus fashion: “While Vassar fashion definitely has trends and characteristics, any attempt at definition or description I feel leaves out large swaths of the student body.” He cited brands like Carhartt and Doc Martens as popular among students, often paired with statement pieces, while also adding: “But that sort of describes fashion anywhere.”

Kelley also spoke to the relationship between Vassar’s small population and its fashion patterns, describing, “You get to see a large portion of the student body everyday and therefore can have a really good idea of the entire campus’ style on a day to day basis. I think it is pretty rare to have that kind of insight into your entire community’s style essentially daily.”

Kara Lu ’22 dove into two very different, but equally pervasive trends on campus. “Definitely the 2000s has made a resurgence, with micro-mini skirts, chunky boots and really bold eyeliner,” she commented, “but I also think that Vassar has a staple ‘grandfather/dad’ style that doesn’t ever go away … Things like pleated pants, oversized coats from the ’80s, t-shirts with ridiculous slogans that are too ironic to pass up.”

courtesy of Maia Tharp

Lu’s own style is ever-evolving. At the moment, she finds inspiration on TikTok from Japanese fashion magazines, which she loved reading as a kid. Lu has been thrifting since 2012, scouring the Goodwill behind her school and now the online world of Japanese secondhand stores. Her current favorite piece in her collection is a Vivienne Westwood bag—that she of course brings to the Deece. She remarked, “Kind of impractical since all I carry are my keys, ID and phone, but it makes dinner a little more special, like I’m dressing up for something.”

As a senior, Lu has witnessed four years of campus trends. She recalled, “I specifically remember writing something in my journal [my first year] about everyone wearing Carhartt beanies, cuffed pants and Dickies. People still wear those things, but I think there are more sectors of style right now.”

Theo Duclo ’23 also commented on this Vassar look, explaining, “‘Liberal Arts Fashion’ is also definitely a thing. We joke that students come back for their second semester ‘Vassarified,’ having added a few pairs of overalls and Doc Martens to their closet.” I can attest to this—prior to Vassar I owned exactly zero pairs of overalls. Now I have three.

courtesy of Theo Duclo ’23

An apparent, overarching theme of Vassar fashion is its allowance for expression. “There’s room for total experimentation, individuality and joy,” Duclo expressed. “A culture of acceptance surrounding queerness and gender fluidity contributes a lot to that, I think. All styles are available to people of all gender identities, and we uplift and celebrate the diversity in fashion among our friends and peers.”

Duclo’s style draws from the Southwest and the local vintage thrift shops of his Arizona hometown. He defined his aesthetic: “Androgynous, whimsical, ’60s meets ’90s British boy band meets little boy on holiday at the beach. I love stripes, a strong-silhouetted pant and RED!” His signature look includes a red sweater and green, high-waisted pants with black loafers.

Together, these five students’ disparate styles represent an overarching theme of fashion at Vassar: There is no theme. Here, both the trendy resurgence of ’90s fashion and the ever-classic vintage finds in dusty thrift stores inspire students’ fashion choices. Because in reality, Vassar fashion is whatever you want it to be. It’s a series of contradictions. Trendy. Personal. Nothing special. One-of-kind.

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