Major fashion woes

by Julie Plevin | 11/17/06 6:00am

With the end of sophomore fall approaching, there is a sense of urgency for self-discovery among the '09 class. My classmates are dialing home for some parental guidance, pouring over the pages of the ORC and looking for peer advice during pledge term events. Winter term registration is officially over and so for those of us taking our time exploring all edges, crevices and corners of the vast academic universe, we have three more opportunities to find our passion.

My academic passions are ever mercurial, but my passion for fashion is enduring. So while my peers are looking to their professors, parents or tea leaves for an answer to this major dilemma, I am casually observing the fashion styles by major. I am searching for the style that "I liiike" most.

As I journey toward self-discovery through style, I begin to form deeper questions about fashion than "are leggings without anything over them a good idea?" As I sit in Collis guessing students' major by the clothes they are wearing or in classrooms observing different students in their element, I have started to ponder: Do we show our values and priorities through the way we dress? Do we choose a major because we dress, act and think a certain way, or does being a certain major affect the way we think and consequently the way we dress?

I thought my propensity for Patagonia and puffy vests would qualify me as an environmental studies major. But, after further observation, this pseudo-outdoorsy style is not sustainable enough for our granola-munching, Frisbee-playing friends.

ENVS majors leave the preppy side of outdoorsy wear to the geography majors who grew up in rich suburbs attending expensive summer tour-esque adventure programs. The real ENVS-type go for the low-cost, leave-no-trace gear that also doubles as clothing. Environmental studies major Shane Colegrove '07 comments on the "Silent Spring" style: "ENVS majors pick up on the less commercial brands like Arcteryx and were wearing Crocs before anyone else at Dartmouth." ENVS majors go for the no-nonsense Carhartt coveralls, Ibex sweaters and Chacos (with SmartWool socks for inclement weather) while geography majors yield to the less organic, more widely accepted North Face fleeces, Mountain Hardwear hard shells, and Birkentsock clogs.

While the style differences between ENVS and geography majors comes down to Patagonia vs. Arcteryx, their crunchy style can't be compared to the students who call Silsby and Rockefeller home. Government and economics majors may be passionate about affecting change, but only if they can do it in their pearls, Polo and Lacoste. Some government and econ majors have already relinquished their souls to "The Man" and do not even affect an appearance of wanting to effect change.

I've spotted quite a few govy and econ majors who clearly do not roll out of a campus issued extra-long twin bed and throw on clothes from their hamper to go to class. They arrive in Silsby five minutes early for their 9L looking as if they stepped out of the J.Crew catalog in freshly pressed button-downs and chinos.

The motto for this classy crowd is "money may not buy happiness, but it does buy fabulous clothing and the comparative advantage is more beneficial than the current administration's fiscal policy." I wish I could find contrary evidence to this trite stereotype, but it just appears to be too prevalent.

Now I will venture where no fashion critic ever has: the engineering department. After a quick glance inside Thayer my fashionista sensibilities got the best of me and I had to haul out of there as fast as my Marc Jacobs ballet flats would take me. I don't think I spotted one telltale back pocket sign of fancy jeans.

Lets just say that if you are choosing a major and you are looking for style and you end up in the Thayer school, your fashion instincts are off. Engineers have potential to be stylish, but for the day-to-day grind they focus more on practical and comfortable rather than fleeting fashion trends. Basically, engineers are more concerned with the way things work rather than the way they look (with the exception of product designers who worry about plastics and not fabrics).

Just as engineering majors dress for hands-on, physical work, English majors dress to evoke the romantic sentiment of snuggling up with a novel in the Tower Room. Roomy grandpa sweaters with oversized pockets for stuffing used tissues are a must when annotating Emerson by the fire with a cup of chamomile tea.

English major Mirelle Phillips '07 admits that she succumbs to the stereotypical English major-look: "There are two types of clothes that I love: delicate and soft feminine sweaters and really handsome tops." I like the earthy, rustic tones that dominate this style and I have always had a crush on tweed and wide whale corduroy pants, but I could live without the saggy stuff.

I realize that if I want to find majors with concern for visual appearance instead of concern for sustainability, practicality or coziness, I would have to look to art history and studio art. After all, crafting the perfect outfit is a fine art. Artsy majors don't just wear couture brands, but they embody the brands by integrating colors, textures and layers into an immaculate rhapsody. Like a Monet painting, the individual pieces are not necessarily discernable brands or vogue trends, but the overall effect is more than an outfit; it is a masterpiece.

These majors are so attentive to styles and subtle details in their studies that the same attitude carries over to attire. However, even when boots, straight leg jeans, long sweater, beads, berets and totes blend together seamlessly, the outfit clashes with the Dartmouth scenery. The mud, wind, and rain prove to be obstacles that the big green bus-driving, rugged salad-eating, cabin-hopping environmental studies crowd is better suited to handle.

I was hoping to prove the legitimacy of my hypothesis -- how you dress reflects your ideals and passions -- with a quotation from sociology professor Melissa Herman, but she said, "These are great questions for a senior thesis, but I don't know the answers myself." Hmm a great senior thesis? So maybe I can major in critiquing fashion!

Sorry if this discovery does not lead you to your own major epiphany, but it should give you hope that you do not have to be a stereotypical government/econ major.

Step out of the conservative Lacoste/Ugg/Patagonia box and realize that you can mix and match styles and passions by creating your own major, adding a minor, modifying, doubling (not the popped collar) and concentrating. Embrace individualism and defy generalizations.

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