Crunchy Fashion

by Nelly Mendoza-Mendoza | 1/28/16 8:59pm

Take a cursory glance around the Green, and you’d be hard-pressed not to find at least one person sporting a Patagonia fleece or trudging through the snow in L.L. Bean boots. In the warmer months, it’s common to see people pattering across the grass in Birkenstocks or clad in plaid shirts and khakis.

Emma Oberstein ’18 summarized Dartmouth’s style by naming these very brands.

“Lots of Bean boots, flannels, Patagonias,” Oberstein said of the fashion she typically sees. “Very crunchy.”

She noted that Dartmouth students don’t all dress in a singular fashion, of course, but that there is an overarching style.

Dartmouth students’ occasional tendency for this kind of fashion is well-known, aligning with the College’s reputation for environmental friendliness and efforts to be “green.” But does this crunchy fashion stem from genuine environmental concerns, or does Dartmouth simply attract outdoorsy people who prefer to dress a certain way?

Moreover – can something like fashion even be “sustainable?”

Environmental science professor Coleen Fox wrote in an email that sustainable fashion, to her, means buying high-quality clothes and buying minimally. She explained that this includes wearing the clothing even when it is no longer considered fashionable.

During Dartmouth Outing Club First-Year Trips, which serves as a time for people to connect with the environment, sustainability is heavily emphasized. Trips follows a leave-no-trace policy and each participant receives a Nalgene water bottle with stickers that promote using less.

It would seem, then, that sustainable practices become ingrained in Dartmouth students before they’ve even matriculated. Presumably, this continues on to their next four years here. So I set out to find out: does this attitude extend to clothing choices?

Although the fashion and textile industry produces massive amounts of pollution annually, I admit that sustainability is the last thing on my mind when I go clothes shopping. I would guess many people feel the same way.

The majority of students that I interviewed revealed that they have not given much thought to what a clothing company promotes, but rather to the style and price of clothing. David Jelke ’19 confirmed this.

“I haven’t given much thought to that,” Jelke said of considering sustainability when purchasing clothing.

Oberstein echoed Jelke’s sentiment, explaining that she does not consider sustainability when purchasing clothes either. She considers where the clothes are from, but not for the reasons one might expect.

“I consider where it was made, but not for environmental reasons, for political reasons,” Oberstein said.

Another consideration is that sustainable fashion – much like sustainably grown foods, for example – tends to be more pricey.

Some popular brands commonly seen at Dartmouth like L.L. Bean and Patagonia are well-advertised for their environmentally sustainable natures; they have lifetime warranties and environmental responsibility codes. But, these brands can be very expensive. Not everyone can afford to make clothing choices based on environmental concerns.

Emma Hartswick ’17 said that she prioritizes a clothing item’s affordability over its sustainability when shopping.

“I think about how long its going to last me,” Hartswick said. “But I would say that most of my decisions today are based on cost-effectiveness, not on longevity.”

Oberstein said that for her, what matters the most is how clothing looks. She said she’d be willing to pay a more expensive price if she especially liked the item.

“What matters to me is that it looks good,” Oberstein said. “It can be expensive, but only if it looks good.”

Lily Fagin ’16 agreed that affordability trumps all else, even if she knows the fashion is environmentally sustainable.

“I have noticed when I go in small stores, it says, ‘everything is locally sourced.’ Stuff like that seems cool, but its always more expensive,” Fagin said. “So, usually I don’t go for it.”

Although many of my interviewees said that they do not buy clothing based on whether or not it benefits the environment, most had other sustainable habits: buying clothing only when they needed them, buying second hand or buying clothing with good warranties.

Matt Woodberry ’19 described himself as someone who only buys clothes when necessary.

“I already have a lot of clothes and I am the kind of person that doesn’t need new clothes as long as the old ones still fit, so I guess its kind of sustainability,” Woodberry said.

Fagin said that her shopping habits, too, tend to be sustainable.

“I get a lot of my clothes second hand, and I guess that is kinda sustainable,” Fagin said. “It’s like recycling.”

There’s also the question of whether Dartmouth’s alleged sustainable fashion is conflated with a casual style.

Alexis Castillo ’19 said she’s observed Dartmouth students’ style of dress to be very versatile.

“Everyone does their own thing [here], and we don’t feel like we are pressured or judged,” Castillo said. “We don’t feel like we have to dress a certain way to feel accepted.”

Hartswick agreed, but said there is a bit of pressure to dress within certain parameters of what is acceptable.

“You make your own little thing, but you fall under this spectrum of where it is acceptable almost,” Hartswick said. “Everyone has their own style, but also everyone has in their head what is too informal and what is too formal, based on what others are wearing.”

On nights out, it’s common to see people dressed very casually.

Hartswick said that her friends at other schools were appalled that she wears leggings to go out, and would comment that she needed to put on something more dressy, like a sparkly skirt.

Part of this might be due to Dartmouth’s isolated location as people at other schools might be dressing more formally to go to public venues like clubs and bars. Here, students are typically going to parties at fraternities, sororities or off-campus houses, and might feel less of a need to dress to impress.

Wherever Dartmouth’s casual and crunchy style originated, its prevalence on our campus is undeniable. Whether or not you buy second hand clothes, or shop with sustainability in mind, we should celebrate the fact that we attend a school where it’s acceptable to dress comfortably according to your own style.