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student fashions

Cal Style 2008: A fashion safari to Sproul Plaza
On Berkeley's large and storied 'runway,' student journalists scout out personalized twists on mass-market clothing trends
The elements of Cal Style 2008 (view slide show)

 Flyer for "Plugs to Bling" exhibit on history of Cal student fashion
Plugs to Bling: A retrospective on Cal student fashion will be on display at Doe Library from March 8 through August '08. More >

— With an historical exhibit on Cal student fashion opening this week, the time is right to scope out what UC Berkeley students are up to style-wise in spring 2008. Figuring that Sproul Plaza at noon is still one of the busiest and most eclectic fashion runways west of Paris, we headed there recently to check it out — myself, web designer Melani King (who brought a camera), and trend-savvy sophomores Rachel Freier-Miller and Rosie Wang.

We weren't disappointed. It was a sunny, brisk February day — the kind that calls for winter-izing a spring outfit or summer-izing a fall one — with students in sleeveless T's (and scarves and knit hats, skinny jeans and baggy jeans, pencil skirts and oversized bags) converging from all corners of campus. In no time our style scouts' noses were virtually twitching in the wind.

Examples of personal fashion flair, it turned out, were abundant; few students we stopped were camera shy; and nearly all were open to talking about their outfit, their personal approach to getting dressed, or their attitude toward high fashion.

BARE fashionistas

 Fashionistas Rachel Freier-Miller and Rosie Wang, both sophomores, scouted out Cal styles
Fashionistas Rachel Freier-Miller and Rosie Wang, both sophomores, scope out student fashion statements.
(Melani King photos)
 

Rachel and Rosie, FYI, come with bonafide fashion credentials: they're among the creators of BARE magazine, a new student fashion publication on the Berkeley campus. They clearly adore creative self-expression through clothing, and waste little energy dissing the fashion-challenged among us.

Rosie, for her part, "doesn't believe in passé" and is well versed in style trends and fashion vocabulary — acquired, she reports, by incessant consumption of fashion blogs as a means of procrastination. Rachel, whose chief passions are "art, medicine, and dignity," struggled with her weight as a kid, so is skeptical of the "regular requirements of fashion" and averse to "promoting anorexia or anything unhealthy. I want to promote beauty in all its forms," she insists.

That's what she told fellow Palo Alto native Doreen Bloch when the latter approached her, freshman year, about launching a Berkeley fashion publication. After recruiting a core group of students to realize this vision, BARE magazine was born in fall '07. For Rachel, it passes muster.

The new publication's glossy pages and high production values are a far cry from an ink-on-your-fingers newsprint rag that might cry out "Berzerkeley." Nevertheless, there's something quintessentially Berkeley about this new addition to the student publishing scene. Its first edition spoofs stereotypes of the People's Republic of Berkeley (and conventions of fashion photography). Student models from diverse backgrounds strut their threads in People's Park and picturesque corners of Hearst Gym; an undergrad in Mama Cass-inspired hippie gown poses barefoot in a tree — alongside snappy commentary on the legacy of the '60s ("Jefferson and Lennon asked for an upheaval and Berkeley delivered…").

 Sophomore Arielle Scott on cover of BARE magazine
Sophomore Arielle Scott poses against a public restroom in People's Park for the launch edition of BARE magazine.

"Whether you're curvy or thin, athletic or not," reads BARE's manifesto on models, "with blonde hair or brown hair or red hair, or no hair, dark skinned or fair skinned, tanned, pierced, or tattooed — what unites our models is their confidence, ease in front of a camera, and their willingness to both follow direction and get creative."

Now with a staff of about 20 "hard-core" members and a total staff of about 50 students, BARE approaches fashion as "more than just cloth on a body," as it puts it, but a mode of self expression available to all. Its second edition, featuring the meanings we attach to color, is due in early March, followed by an issue on fashion and politics planned to come out around the time of the November '08 election.

As the editors of BARE will tell you, the fashion looks at Cal, if not endless, are many, and style-oriented media — especially TV programs like "What Not to Wear,""How to Look Good Naked," "America's Next Top Model," "Project Runway," and "Make Me a Supermodel" — seem to be spreading fashion literacy.

Last year, reports Bloch, "there were huge parties in the dorms every Wednesday to watch 'America's Next Top Model.'" The TV judges, she says, "give such insightful critiques. It’s taught me what to look for — how to produce the best image and graphics."

What's fun to observe, in Wang's view, is how Cal students, often on limited budgets, are adapting red-runway looks. They modify high fashion "and put their own touch on it," she says.

Style, insists Bloch, "is about creating art."

Slide show The Elements of Cal Style 2008: View slide show

Previous articles on student fashion at Berkeley:

Have Cal memorabilia (such as clothing or photos) you're willing to donate to The University Archives? Contact archivist David Farrell at (510) 643-9498 or via email.