Clothes Encounters

Hearst Museum's Sartorial Exhibit Features Goths and Preppies at Berkeley High

by Fernando Quintero

Dressed from head to toe in black velvet and lace, her face painted a ghostly white, Berkeley High School senior Laurel BonČ calls herself a "Goth."

The term, short for "Gothic," describes a style of dress and way of life that borrows its inspiration from vampire lore.

"Stylin' Fits: The Language of Clothes at Berkeley High School" is an exhibit currently on display at the Hearst Museum of Anthropology.

It explores the role clothes play as markers of identity and perception among a cross-section of teenagers at Berkeley high.

Rosemary Joyce, museum director and professor of anthropology, said she hopes bringing contemporary exhibits to the Hearst will break down stereotypes about what an anthropology museum is.

The Berkeley high project and an upcoming one on contemporary ranches in Contra Costa County are part of an effort to add modern collections to the famous, ancient ones.

Joyce believes one of the best ways to get people interested in frequenting an anthropology museum is to let them participate in programs there.

"The high school audience was perfect," she said. "The students are self-conscious about their clothing, about what they call 'stylin,' so they're articulate about it."

BonČ, 18, began wearing black her sophomore year "as a way to disappear," she said.

"It felt safe to wear black and sort of just disappear into the background. I felt like wearing brighter colors exposed me to the world," the Berkeley student recalled.

Today, BonČ wears black to express her "obsession" with vampires. "They're mystical creatures that come alive at night. I like that whole idea," she said.

RenČe Ross, an exhibit designer at the Hearst museum who organized the Berkeley High show, identified a number of students who group themselves according their dress.

In addition to Goths, there are "Gutter Goths," teens who wear black but add to their wardrobe a tattered look that includes ripped up jeans and torn T-shirts.

There are also Preppies, Hip Hoppers, Skaters and Nerds.

Ross, who received her master's degree in folklore under the tutelage of noted Berkeley folklorist Alan Dundes, said she got the idea for the exhibit after noticing the large array of clothing styles at Berkeley high.

"I perceived that there was a real limited voice for teens, Ross said. "We don't hear much about who they are, or what their world view is. It occurred to me that one way they speak for themselves is through their clothing."

Ross said she discovered students at Berkeley high were not only fiercely independent in their personal expression, but she also found a very sensitive side to them.

"Many students wear objects that have much personal meaning and value," she said. One student wears a bracelet his father wore when he was a Hippie in the late '60s.

Many students exchange woven "friendship bracelets" that serve as tokens of their mutual affection.

"Kids in high school are at an age when they are experimenting with their identity," said Ross.

"With fashion, they can try on an identity and change it just as easily as they change their clothes."

-- Gretchen Kell contributed to this report.


Copyright 1997, The Regents of the University of California.
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