What is the role of fashion at Michigan?
November 20, 2018
Appearances, Assumptions and Arbitrary Androgyny
The author is a second-year student who identifies as a Johnny Cash follower and gender-nonconforming.
My relationship with my appearance is complicated. I’m not officially out, although my close friends and family members know, excluding my parents. There are days when absolutely nothing can make me feel right in my own body. It feels awkward, disproportionate, and unsatisfactory for every possible aesthetic function. Sometimes I refer to it as my flesh vessel because that’s all it is, carrying me from place to place. I’ve draped it in protective layers, nothing more. Sweatpants and sweatshirts hide the shape of my body and leave me with a genderless anonymity I can feel safe in, but it still leaves me depressed.
Finding clothes that feel right is… interesting. I identify somewhat/sometimes with the gender I was assigned at birth. There are some skirts and dresses that I feel like
myself in, but not all of them. Some I put on and it feels… incorrect. Even if I know they look good, the puzzle pieces don’t fit. Then, there’s anxiety about expressing masculinity. Sometimes I wonder if it would be easier to chop off my hair, but I worry that will emphasize my face, which is average at best, and feminine. I’ve tried traditional and current masculine clothes yet despite my want, they don’t always look right. Some days my body is just an awkward frame clothes hang off of. On those days, I stick to sweatshirts and avoid the mirror. I’ve found that bomber jackets and joggers are a good compromise for me. I can present masculinity without drawing too much attention from my peers or my parents.
Even if we claim to be moving towards an androgynous age, the expectations for gender performance are raised higher. Yeah, girls can wear baggy oversized t-shirts, but the Kardashians wear them with thigh-high boots and a full face of makeup. Men can wear crop tops as long as their six-pack is showing. We may have moved away from conventions, but not tradition. If we perform other than our assigned gender, we must outperform in the other areas so as not to generate “confusion.” Androgyny is commercialized, not accepted.
Remember when Vogue said Zayn was breaking gender barriers because his men’s cut suits had floral prints? They said Gigi wearing a woman’s cut suit with the same bold and colorful mismatched prints was further evidence our generation doesn’t see fashion as gendered. My initial thought was are you kidding me? It was revolutionary for women to wear trousers in the 1950s. Gigi Hadid wearing pants is nothing new, just now she’s wearing traditionally ugly prints. If fashion “wasn’t gendered”, the trans girls I know could wear skirts without turning any heads. Every fashion choice my trans friends and I make, whether they’re binary or not, is scrutinized for the danger it may incite in bigots, and the violence in our own minds. Does it emphasize my chest too much? Does it reveal a lack of cleavage I’m normally grateful for? Does it emphasize my hips in an unmanly way? Is it embarrassingly apparent how narrow my shoulders are? How small my biceps are? I’ve tried going to the gym to build muscle and confidence, but I always end up prioritizing academics and falling off the wagon. I’ve been persuaded into the mindset that I look better on paper anyways, and I should just try harder there.
I want to wear what’s comfortable. I want to dress like the characters in stories that inspire me and give me confidence. I want to switch between Agent Carter and Indiana Jones with only an eyebrow raise about the shift between decades. My gender is really nebulous. I’ve stopped wanting to be seen as non-binary, or genderfluid, or genderqueer. I want to be seen as me. I’ve started buying the clothes I feel like I can’t wear to prove to myself that I can. Sometimes I wear ugly things because I’m tired of trying to appeal to people. I’ve got depression and anxiety and enough trouble trying to sell myself on me, let alone other people. It’s too much goddamn work to make the world like you when you know you’re living in a system that actively tries to tear you down.
Fashion has become a battleground and an experiment for me. The best days are when I feel safe testing my boundaries. The worst days are when nothing looks right and I wrap myself in soft fabrics in the hope that they’ll hold me close while I’m miserable, keep me company while I regain my footing.
Niko Bouvier’s phrasing is the best I can offer to explain my situation. From their book of poems, An Aromantic’s Love Song to the Populace:
my body is a temple, and the
universe, and I am a deity except
that these aren’t true things and
for them to be real
Fashion, or Lack Thereof
Ben Elbaum is a sophomore studying history and political science. He has a passion for woodworking and Mexican food.
Fashion is an elusive concept. It’s that extra effort you put into looking good and the minute details which make all the difference, like matching your socks to your eye color. It’s the x-factor that sometimes no one can grasp, but when you see it, you know it’s there. Fashion is a different idea in everyone’s mind - a specific aesthetic that they represent, something that makes them stand out. And it’s also something I have never been able to comprehend.
At age twelve, I began attending a private school in New Haven, Connecticut. I was astounded by the utter lack of athletic shorts and cotton tee shirts. I quickly learned that although the school boasted a policy of “free expression through clothing,” there was an unwritten dress code: collared shirts and khakis, a style that turned my stomach inside out. After six years of assimilation into Southern New England culture, I emerged from high school with a diploma and a sense of what it means to dress “nice”. Sure, I still treated myself once in a while with a pair of distressed sweatpants or an old sweatshirt, but I had learned that “look good, feel good” is indeed a true statement. I simply felt more confident and accepted in a Vineyard Vines button-down than my dad’s used college lacrosse sweatshirt.
Shortly after graduation, I began the arduous labor of summer employment. Finding myself behind the eight-ball on exciting jobs at summer camp, or pre-college programs, I ended up making sandwiches and mopping floors at a highway rest stop Subway. Oppressed by the uniform of a green shirt, visor, and khakis, I found myself losing the sense of style that six years of private school had imprinted on me and longed for more comfortable attire.
When my thankless time at the rest stop came to an end and I began packing my bags for college, I felt like a lost puppy as my mom sifted through my wardrobe matching outfits for me. Coming to Ann Arbor, I assumed the university would not only help me find my academic passions, but also rediscover my style. I was poorly mistaken, as I realized the days of imitating a sea of Vineyard Vines and Lululemon were over. At a school of nearly 45,000, the “Michigan style” was impossible to pin down. While I was exploring my academic interests, I took note of the fashion around me, from my close friends to that dude I saw from a distance wearing cool Nikes. I discovered that there is no real “Michigan style”, and in a school as big and diverse as this one, if I didn’t carve out my own niche, I would get lost in the endless stampede of uniqueness. So, I decided, for my style, I would go with no style at all.
The way you dress is the way the world sees you. It defines your identity to every passer-by, every student, every faculty member, every street on-looker who you’ve never met before. What you’re wearing is the first thing someone notices; a method to define yourself without uttering a single word. I chose to live without my own personal style because I refuse to let one feature define who I am. My outfits have been described as “homeless chic,” “salvation armani,” “flannel”, and “inconsistent as f***”- I could go on and on. My theory is, what’s the point of having a real personality if all the people you’ve never met judge you by how you look anyway? What’s the point of having an inside if all people see is the outside? That’s why I like to keep people guessing. A few pieces of fabric will not become my first impression. If you want to define me by my fashion, then go ahead and try, because I simply do not have any sense of fashion at all. Oh, so you say white pants are banned after Labor Day? Guess I didn’t get the memo. Polo button-down and Nike sweatpants? Sign me up. Wearing a suit to class all day because I have an interview later but don’t feel like walking back home to change beforehand? That’s a yes for me. Not having a style is a style within itself, and if you’d like to define me by my mismatched socks and worn-out duck boots, then go ahead. I’m more than happy with what I see in the mirror.
A Midwestern Flair
Liv Velarde is a senior studying English with a minor is Spanish and museum studies. She is the current editor in chief of Shei Magazine.
My earliest glimpse into the fashion industry came from television: Project Runway, America's Next Top Model, The Devil Wears Prada. Maybe that's not exactly a glamorous introduction to fashion, but growing up in a small corner of Michigan offered me limited entryways. The fashion magazines I saw at the Rite Aid registers were stunning, but felt inaccessible. The brands being advertised were products I had never seen in stores before, and the models did not seem like people that I could relate to. I dreamt of being in that world and feeling the glamour draped on my body, but I never considered it a reasonable goal.
Growing up, I craved creative outlets, but struggled to find them. When I arrived at this expansive campus, joining an organization that allowed me to express myself was a priority. I always had a self-image of being not-very-creative. The only creative task I was really good at was dressing myself in the morning, yet it seemed unfeasible that I could turn that into something bigger and find a community where that skill was valued. I remember feeling electrified when I first heard about the fashion team at SHEI Magazine. I wanted to be a part of it so badly that I almost didn't send in my application because I was afraid of rejection.
A student publication dedicated to producing high fashion content on a campus budget has a tall order to fill, especially one based in the corner of a state not exactly known for its couture output. Since joining SHEI magazine three years ago, it's consistently been the best part of my day — getting together with people to create something that allows me to express myself. It's definitely a labor of love, considering we create the print fashion content on a budget of $150 per semester and the general fashion members produce monthly digital content on no budget whatsoever. It's a communal experience, borrowing clothes from friends, shopping for items you know will be returned a few days post-photoshoot, collaborating with models who know best how to do their own hair and makeup. Conceptualizing and executing a photoshoot means finding models to commit a few hours for free, working with photographers on lighting, researching and directing the posing of models, and developing an attention to detail so strong that I’m able to detect one strand of hair out of place.
One thing that the SHEI team has been grappling with ever since I've been a part of the organization is our role on campus. Do we want to be aspirational, or should we reflect what we see on campus? There's no reason that we can't be both. Midwestern-ness might seem antithetical to high fashion, but there's no reason that we have to reject our geographical roots in order to compete. Aspirationally, we want to reflect trends coming out the cultural hubs of the world, but we also want the students reading our magazine to see the spirit of their campus represented. On our social media channels and website, we post weekly photos of uniquely-dressed individuals on campus. That can take a variety of forms, it's not necessarily the most trendy or expensive items that make the best street style shots.
Street style has been one of the best innovations by SHEI Magazine in the past few years; it's fostering a community on campus centered around fashion and a love for dressing yourself in a fun way every morning. Being a high fashion magazine is great in theory and we try our best to push ourselves to incorporate high-fashion, but I never want any of our content to feel forced or removed from the audience that we're really trying to connect with. We're a midwestern campus, and we have all of the quirky traditions and style tendencies that come with it. Having access to the wider world of fashion has allowed for more content, but what makes SHEI unique is the raw talent and creativity that we all bring to the table based upon the different influences we've been exposed to, and the Midwestern ones are just as valid. The Midwest gets trends late, but by the time they make their way to Michigan these trends have turned into something that’s uniquely our own and I want to celebrate that. SHEI's content is for everyone on campus, especially people that are going their own unique way
T.C. is a junior in LSA working as an RA in the Sustainable Living Residential Experience in Oxford housing. She is the future VP of Marketing for Maize and Blue Cupboard.
I’ve been drooling over a specific pair of shoes for over three years now. How I put off buying them for this long I don’t know—self control is not one of my winning traits. Plus, I was literally dreaming about these shoes. Black Vans SK8 His, a literal classic. Trendy as hell and practical, these babies were my goal aesthetic. The only problem?
Yeah yeah, I said it. I don’t even know if vegans make a good punchline anymore; the only people that ever make fun of me for my diet now are middle aged and don’t even have twitter accounts. Veganism—refraining from using or consuming animal products—is a pretty big part of my life. All of my meals in the dining hall are carefully chosen. Asking for something “without cheese” or “without any meat product” is a common occurrence when I venture to eat outside of the carefully-labeled sanctuary that is MDining.
I don’t say this to complain or fish for empathy—I know that being vegan is an incredibly privileged state to be in. The fact that I have the ability to choose to not eat animal products when so many folks have trouble putting food on the table is something that I try not to take for granted. I became vegan for environmental reasons, which became ethical reasons almost two years ago. In addition to not consuming animal products, I try to buy cosmetics that aren’t tested on animals and stay away from leather, wool, silk, and other animal-derived products.
Circling back to footwear, Black Vans SK8 Hi’s are decidedly not vegan since they’re made of suede (which is made from animal skin [not to be grody, just keeping it 100 for ya]), so ya girl was disappointed, but not surprised, that my dream shoes would never be included in one of my critically acclaimed OOTDs.
Another year passed after this sad revelation, and I ended up buying a pair of checkered Vans slip-ons (vegan approved!) to tide me over. My obsession persisted. Any old black high top just wouldn’t do, and the knockoff vegan Vans SK8 Hi’s that I found online were kind of expensive, and far less chic. I took to the vegan message boards of the internet in search of a solution, and was directed to the second-hand shopping realm of the internet.
Now, I’m no stranger to a good thrifting sesh. Salvation Army was a staple for me before they pushed their anti-LGBTQIA+ agenda. Goodwill has always been a favorite, and true Ann Arbor veterans will remember the kind of grody joy that came from waking up early on a Saturday morning to paw through the new arrival bins at the recently closed Kiwanis thrift store. Most of my wardrobe is from second-hand stores, but until I stumbled upon this tip from the internet, I had yet to delve into the virtual version of my fashion haven.
I hopped into bed with my laptop, my eyes wide with wonder as my capitalist nature bubbled to the surface. I felt absolutely effervescent as my shopping cart grew in size, pants, shirts, and jackets pilling up with a “free return” guarantee;it felt too good to be true. And then I saw the shoes, oh, the shoes! Brand new Reeboks. With the tags?? MY SIZE??? Wait, does that mean…
My fingers flew across the backlit keys as I frantically mistyped: “Vand SK8 Hi.” Within seconds, I had pages upon pages of results. Vans. THE Vans. I applied a filter to select only shoes in my size and in black, and boom. There they were. The shoes of my dreams, and for way less than market price? The description said they were only worn once and the laces were missing, but I slapped the “buy now” button without any further questions and lo and behold, 5-7 days later, I had a box waiting on my stoop with my name on it.
I’ve been rocking these bad boys for a solid month now, and I’m living. At first I felt a bit guilty for wearing them since they’re suede, but the way I see it, I’m not buying directly from the producer, and I’m supporting an industry (second hand shopping) that promotes sustainable practices. It’s like recycling, but for your clothes! I became a vegan for the environment after all, and these shoes are going to last me for quite a while.
I still don’t eat animal products, and I still shop in the hippy-dippy cosmetic section to get my cruelty-free products, and I hope that that means I’m making a difference. I love that second-hand shopping has become a trend—anything we can do to consume less and re-use more is a win in my book. So, to any fellow vegans, thrifters, or eco-enthusiasts out there, I see you. To any none-of-those-things, I see you too, and consider this an invitation. Let’s grab an oat milk latte in a compostable cup and go thrifting sometime, yeah?