Friday, 16 October 2015




All of my peers here at the iSchool have great personal style. Unique, fashion-forward, sophisticated, edgy: there is so much variety in the fashions I see in class every day. I recruited a number of my peers to talk to me briefly about their outfits--a miniature study in contemporary consumer culture. I wish I could have interviewed everyone; this is but a small sampling of the snappy dressers of the programme.

As museum people, we can go beyond just listing brand names, so the framework of the interview was that the subject was to act as a curator, and speak about their outfit as if describing its meaning and influences in an exhibit label. I have transcribed some highlights below from the interviews. A few questions structured the mini interviews:

  • What is special or meaningful about what you're wearing today?
  • Who or what do you look to for style inspiration?
  • If 2015 has a style, is your personal style representative of it?

I only had three questions, but forgot to ask at least one of them during every interview. Luckily, my interview subjects more than made up for my lack of planning with their thoughtful interpretations of their own outfits. Casual and candid--here's the very latest from the iSchool!

Madeline Smolarz, 2nd Year

Who else could I start the column with but our very own, very stylish Musings Editor-in-Chief, Madeline? She emphasized the cohesion of design in all the pieces of her outfit: "there is a colour palette and [my skirt] has additional visual interest. Neat pleats and a pattern, and extra pockets. I like things that would surprise people, that maybe they haven't seen before. A fun pattern or a cool shoe. Something that would make someone take a second look and make myself smile. When I am out in the world, I like my clothing to reflect who I am on the inside, and for there to be cohesion throughout all my looks."

Noting that her jacket is thrifted, she brought up an incredibly important and contentious critical issue in the textile industry right now: sustainability, especially "in terms of overproduction, and the people making the clothing. People throwing out perfectly good clothes when that could go to a good cause. I like to go to places that are either saving clothes from landfills or the money [from the purchase] goes to a good cause. Before I go to a department store, I definitely go to a thrift or vintage store."

She considers thrifting and sustainable fashion to be a very 2015 thing: "I do fit in to today's style. It's interesting because there does seem to be several vintage throwbacks--the 70s is having a moment right now. I fit in--I think about vintage, and the colour palettes I choose are on trend. But I'll have pieces for several years, that I've kept, and they come back in to style again."

Jessica Lin Zhang, 1st Year

Jessica's take on her "warm!" sweater, jean shirt, and skirt combo evoked an artist describing a painting. She stressed that the materiality of each piece influenced the others. She wore "mixed textiles: jean and knitwear. I read something about how the eye is sensitive to different textures. The clash of textures. If you wear a cotton sweater with a knit sweater it wouldn't stand out as much. There's no contrast. If you wear jean, or silk, with a knit sweater, then your eye easily picks that up." 

Her inspiration comes from blogs and streetwear photography--and she considers herself as fitting in to the current fashion ethos. "Simplicity is the style" for 2015.

Rowena McGowan, 2nd Year

Rowena noted that she wore something out-of-the-ordinary on the day of the interview--she didn't feel that it was her usual style, which usually features impressive handmade knitwear, button-up shirts, and bright colours. The topic of special-occasion wear is important to any museum's textile collection, and to the vintage clothing industry--the kind of clothing that gets photographed at special events and saved in cedar chests, but is removed from everyday wear. She invoked nostalgia and self-awareness in her interpretation of her outfit: a "vintage dress that was way too expensive, but is really cute. It makes me think of the Second World War, which I really shouldn't romanticize, but I feel Millenials always do. I'm wearing dinosaur earrings. I don't really try to match my outfits, I just wear what I want to wear, which sometimes works, and sometimes ends up ridiculous. Like my vintage dress and my plastic dinosaur earrings. But they make me happy."

This postmodern mashup of dinos and dresses stresses the individuality of personal expression and style. Rowena brought up that I had asked her what her style influence is a while ago: "I told you my style influence is a My Little Pony, and I still stand by that."

Brenna Pladsen, 1st Year

Perhaps taking a cue from her morning Context and Critical Issues class, Brenna emphasized that "context is very important" to her style. She described her sweater dress and stockings as "collegiate while also being a bit exciting" due to the duelling contexts of her surroundings and her body. She laughed that she was able to get away with wearing thigh-highs to class because of her height, and due to the contrasting structure of her loose, tunic-length sweater dress. 

The theme of the outfit is "interesting things: capsule collections or independent designers." That is where she draws inspiration, as well as from a variety of subcultures that subvert and play with the mainstream. Finding ways to mix her slightly punk aesthetic into her everyday outfits is "fun, and exciting, and occasionally a little bit off."

Maureen Marshall, 1st Year

Maureen brought up some very important influences on many of our wardrobe choices: heritage and nostalgia. About her skirt she said: "It's English tartan and my heritage is from back there. It was nice when I saw it advertised as from being there, from the old mills, but with a modern twist." The necessity of re-interpreting older or classic styles to suit contemporary times was evident in her description of her own personal style: "I like really classic lines and clean lines, but it doesn't have to be an Audrey Hepburn classic look. That is something I gravitate towards. But I also have some very funky things that Audrey Hepburn would never wear."

Individuality is key to fashion in 2015: "I don't think there is such a thing as 2015 fashion. Everyone has their own individual interpretation of what they want to do. If we all looked the same it would be so incredibly boring. There are models out there that are in vogue and then you put your own personal twist on it."

Leah Moncada, 2nd Year

From her adorable dress and tights, to her meaningful jewellery, to her incredible, colourful shoes made by a Quebec tailor, Leah's style is incredibly detail-oriented. What ties it all together is memory: "I like wearing things that have memory. Those are the things that I re-wear again and again. Ones that are very important to me I never get rid of." Clothing as a tactile receptacle for meaning is exemplified in her attachment to things like a shawl her friend knit her, or her mother's earrings, or the wool sweater that belonged to her grandmother: "It doesn't fit very well, but it's warm. It's got a lot of personality. There's literally sheep on it. It's kind of like a hug, both physically and mentally."

As any given outfit is "like a walking exhibit of my memories," Leah is unconcerned with fitting in to any prescribed subgroup. She thought that many people shared her opinion: "It's become more popular to shop at thrift store, but we're all so unique. I wear things that have memories to me. I wear shawls five out of seven days of the week; I don't think that's normal. I wear granny dresses, literally. But I also wear jeans and a t-shirt and crewneck frequently. I think we're all so diverse and different; people can be representative of certain subgroups, but I genuinely don't think about what other people wear."


Thanks to those interviewed for the great conversations! I leave you on this Fashion Friday with an anonymous quote from one interview subjects, which perfectly embodies our collective fashion fear: "I don't want to conform. Oh my god--I sound like such a hipster."
A final look at Leah's amazing shoes.

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