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A Passion for Fashion: Smith's Celebrated Love of Style

By Jessica Brophy '04

Of all the things one might expect to find at an all-women's college -- particularly Smith -- perhaps the last is a fashion club. Between the rigorous academic schedule and the level of passionate activism on campus, who has time for fashion?

Yet fashion is an important element of life at Smith. Women's Wear Daily (often called the "fashion bible") in its May college issue gave Smith an honorable mention in its top ten list of "most fashionable colleges." The article called Smith dress "witty and thoughtful…students use body and voice vigorously to express their opinions." A walk through campus will quickly reveal diverse forms of expression through clothing, accessories and hairstyles -- whether students are sporting trendy mohawks or classic wool coats with matching scarves.

Smith students now have a dedicated group (and space) in which to pursue their interest in fashion. PLAID, Smith's fashion club, now in its second year of operation, already has "50 people on the e-mail list and 25 or 30 people that come to each meeting," says Nicole Rimedio '04, co-president of PLAID. "There was also a large amount of interest at the orgs fair this fall," continues Rimedio, which is impressive for such a new organization.

Nicole Rimedio '04, left, and Alexandra Gunn '06 are co-presidents of PLAID, Smith's fashion club, now in its second year of operation. They encourage Smith students to design and make their own clothes as wearable art.

Like most things at Smith, the fashion club certainly isn't run-of-the-mill. Scratch the idea of giggling girls critiquing the outfits of everyone they see. Jie Zheng, a junior who founded the club last year, wrote in The Sophian, "‘Fashion' is one notorious word, competing in infamy with the original f-word and feminism. PLAID is not interested in obeying current trends in our dress or designs."

Ignore talk of "what's hot, what's not" and which designer's fall collection is a hit. Smith's PLAID takes a more aggressive, hands-on approach.

"It's all about making facilities and equipment available to people who want to design or make their own clothes," explains Rimedio. The organization has space at the Women's Resource Center, where a few sewing machines are set up. The club hosts open hours so interested women can learn to use the machines, discuss clothing designs and plan trips to buy materials.

"Wearing clothes you make is great," says Alexandra Gunn '06, also co-president of PLAID. "If you shop downtown, then you see the same clothes all the time that you see on everyone at campus -- if you make your own, people will ask you where you got the clothes," she continues.

Last April the club hosted a fashion show where members walked the runways in their own creations, including a one-shouldered pink dress and other clothing inspired by Asian themes. The club has also sponsored workshops on specific skills, such as making clothes and accessories from unexpected materials.

At Wellesley, a similar fashion club has made its own mark. Á la Mode, founded in 1999 by alumnae, also focuses on fashion and design and hosts eXposé, an annual spring fashion show.

The interest in style at Smith is not limited to students. Dean Margaret Bruzelius, who studied at Harvard and the Fashion Institute of Technology, worked on Seventh Avenue (the heart of the fashion industry) in New York City. She considers her unusual style to be an asset in her current position as a class dean of the sophomore and junior classes. "It's useful," she says of her own style. "It puts people at ease." Bruzelius' style includes a different pair of large, unique earrings every day. She also wears clothing with a lot of color and texture, and patterned tights -- not the usual, more reserved attire of college administrators.

"There are a few students here on campus who clearly shop in nice stores and wear beautiful clothes," notes Bruzelius. "But I don't think of Smith as fashion-obsessed with trends. There's a large range of looks," she continues. She loves to watch student fashions, whether they are handmade, thrift-store finds, or an eclectic mix of designer originals and department store flip-flops. "Students feel liberated to wear what they want as a way of announcing their persona. I hope that they continue to feel that way after they leave here."

Laura Frye-Levine, a senior geology major at Smith, enjoys making up her own fashion "do's" and "don'ts." She has taught a January-term class for three years running on making bags, accessories and clothes out of different kinds of tape and other everyday materials such as stamps or ticket stubs. She started exploring duct tape clothing in high school, after making wallets, and decided to teach a J-term class on the activity her first year. "It's been really popular and people have been wait-listed for it every year," she says. "When I got here, I took one look at Smith students and said, ‘they need duct tape.'"

Smith students are also questioning the images of women and the concepts of beauty that are reflected in -- or as some would argue, dictated by -- the fashion industry. "We're getting there," said Frye-Levine about fashion ideas on campus. "We're embracing different body types. You can be hip and hot without being a size 2."

PLAID encourages many different styles, and urges members to view what they make as wearable art. "[PLAID] is about whatever you want it to be about," insists Rimedio. "We encourage people with different styles to join -- the whole point of making your own clothes is to be different."

Wearing clothing of one's own design is another way for Smith women to empower themselves. "The great part about Smith is that I think people are more willing to express themselves," observes Rimedio. "Anything goes."

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