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Let's Chat About Clothing

onewhowalks's picture

For my 6-Week Contact Zone project, I researched the role of clothing style on campus. My project write-up can be found here. There should be more talk about clothing and style on campus, especially for style as a vehicle for emotion and identity.

Bryn Mawr has character traits as an institution. Not only does it carry a history and a background of its own, but is selective about who it lets in to add its cache of voices, its current story. Bryn Mawr, as an elite historically-women’s liberal arts college, does have to (get to?) pick and choose which voices are added to the collective story, which experiences to highlight and frame for prospective students. But in the day to day, those stories are told by us. They don’t leave and then come back every time we need to write an essay on identity or apply for a job.

The interesting stories are often part of a pit, or rolled up in a favorite piece of chicken. Why? I don’t why. I get my moments at Bryn Mawr of otherness. But it also means I’m privileged, among other things, especially to listening to her research we’d collected every six weeks. I was privileged to be able to run this project because it has helped to even further my eyes to the way we mark and mask our identities, or tell our stories, through our clothing. I kept having small conversations with SGA or with Erdman workers and banter and management.

After my partner and I presented our information to the class, a number of people came up to me to talk to me about my side of the project. "I guess I knew it mattered," said one,"but I didn't really put myself into the other person's shoes when reading their appearance." A significant amount of thought goes into how clothing and style represents the person wearing the clothing. People talked about how it was an art to them. How their clothing represented their inapparent ethnicity. Or their sexuality. Or how their mind worked.

Clothing as a stamp of identiy is important to consider due to the number of conversations we have on campus about identity. Why aren't we talking about clothing and appearance when we have those converstaions? We also need room to talk about the role of gender normativity and roles play in the way we think about and present our sexuality. In looking for solidarity, it's like there's some unspoken knowledge of the QueerLook™. But who is this "Orginial Bryn Mawr Gay," as one of my interviewees put it? There must be a problem in starting to assume identity and voice throgh the way people speak, but I'm not sure there's an alternative. Certainly, at least feeling like it's okay to present outsie of the norm should be a feeling we're promoting here at Bryn Mawr.

People don't talk about clothing. One of my interviewees told me how good , cathartic, pleasurable it felt to talk about the role clothing played in their life without feeling indulgent or shallow. Due to what I'm assuming is internalized misogonny, there's this idea that a person who is smart cannot also be  fashionable; a person who spends ample time tending to their thoughts and work couldn't possibly have time to waste on clothing. But clothing can be more than that. 

There needs to be a place on campus to talk about clothing and appearance. My research was only able to just scratch the surface of what is a fascinating and quiet vault of conversations about what it feels like to be putting oneself on the line via clothing- that's what we're doing, offerign up little pieces of our identity and stories to interpretations by the world when we choose what to wear. I'm looking fowward to helping carve out that place to speak.