Fashion can hint at flash frames of a current generation, marking social media-inspired trends or cultural shifts in attitude. On an individual level, experimenting with personal style often goes hand in hand with understanding oneself, and for some students at Tufts, clothing emerges as one of many mediums to explore and represent their identity.
Libby Moser: Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose
Libby Moser’s style inspirations include “Scooby-Doo” (2020), “Corpse Bride” (2005) and the guest judges on “The Muppets” (1976–81).
“I think I pull from a lot of weird influences in my life,” Moser said. “But the answer I used to give people [to describe my style] is the intersection between the kid who didn’t really ever grow out of their emo phase and also a preschool teacher in 1994.”
Moser is a junior from Sarasota, Fla., and she likened her high school’s aesthetic to beachy VSCO girls. Her affinity for vintage clothes was nurtured from a young age, she said, recalling antiquing and thrifting with her mom.
“I think [it’s] fascinating to watch the evolution of what people donate to thrift stores, or what people sell in auctions or at state sales and things like that,” Moser said. “I find myself more and more attracted to unique pieces and colors or patterns, or things I wouldn’t expect.”
Moser commented that the explosion in the popularity of thrift culture, at least among college students, can have upsides and downsides.
“It’s like when your favorite band gets popular,” Moser said. “You know, you love that they’re getting the attention that they deserve but I like to remember [it was] my secret too.”
Thrift stores serve consumer populations with different needs, and some organizations have raised prices in a way that doesn’t accurately reflect the value of the clothing items, Moser observed.
“I have noticed this trend … and I do love this aesthetic — so you know, mild hypocrisy here that I’m going to acknowledge up front — the ‘grunge fairy core’ [style]. I think it’s really hinged upon that idea of people [who] have money kind of portraying an aesthetic that maybe conveys that they don’t,” Moser said. “But at the same time, I’m really here for any and all reuse of clothing, be it clothing that’s really ragged and worn or be it clothing that’s freshly donated.”
Along with cartoon TV shows from her childhood, Moser said her music tastes seep into her style; as a big fan of grunge, the fashion trends from the 1990s call to her.
“I have this one 90s dress … I’ve always said that if I were a cartoon character I would want to be animated in this dress,” Moser said of her current favorite piece. “It’s denim on the top and then floral all the way down. It’s very cute and gives me very DJ Tanner from ‘Full House’ (1987–95) vibes.”
During the pandemic, Moser started compiling a fashion blog on Instagram where she showcases vintage thrift finds and outfits she’s put together and sells clothing she acquired over time.
In thinking about fashion at Tufts, Moser said she was initially underwhelmed but that it is growing on her.
“Tufts style is always what I imagined high school in Connecticut would look like,” Moser said. “Which I think [reflects] the fact that a large portion of Tufts is … in the upper socio-economic class and people can buy expensive goods. I think it’s a very uniform palette. I see trends change fast, but I see them change en masse.”
Moser double majors in clinical psychology and theater; costume designing for student shows offers a fitting intersection between her love for clothes and her acting background. Her recent project calls for an amalgamation of time periods, a perfectly suited task for Moser.
“I think style is really a quite radical projection of self-identity and I think, for me, style has been a lot about ownership of identity and claiming this is who I am and this is how I choose to present myself,” Moser said.
While Moser reflected how style offers so many initial cues, she also acknowledges that it’s only one of many avenues for self-expression.
“Just because someone doesn’t have a style that I find specifically intriguing, or unique, or whatever — maybe I find it basic — I think it really is a matter of where you put your time … ,” Moser said. “I think it’s cool when people do find different nuanced ways to express who they are. I think a lot of the times the brain real estate that clothes take up in my head are being taken up by calculus in other people’s heads. So it definitely is a tradeoff.”
Claire McMichael: “Bold, Clashing, ‘Juxtaposition’”
Claire McMichael, a sophomore BFA student from Evanston, Ill., said their first dream job was to be a fashion designer.
“I don’t think I was always killing it in the fashion sense, but I certainly always cared,” McMichael said. “There’s this hilarious photo of me … wearing this all pink patterned fit — I was probably four or five — and these pink large circles sunglasses in this photo album. It’s like ‘Claire as Elton John’ … Oh yeah. I came out of the womb styling.”
McMichael said that they are pulled toward youthful, sparkly and intense articles of clothing accumulated from their grandmother’s closet, hand-me-downs and thrift stores; their wardrobe is driven more by instinct than calculation.
“My style is always fluctuating and changing,” McMichael said. “But first things that come to mind are colorful patterns, bold, clashing, or ‘juxtaposition’ to be pretentious. I just wear what excites me, and what I feel like will be stimulating.”
McMichael noted that their style transformations transitioned in parallel with embracing their queerness and that Tufts’ influence on them was less about drawing inspiration from popular trends on campus, but more a marking of a shift in place and self-acceptance.
“I don’t think that Tufts as a whole influenced my style really, other than that being here has been a catalyst for a change in who I am and then, by proxy, my style,” McMichael said.
Compared with the aesthetic of their Chicago suburb, McMichael attributes studying at the SMFA to easing their past concerns about ‘overdoing’ it in their fashion choice.
“Yeah, I mean [Evanston is] crunchy but it’s also a suburb,” McMichael said. “So, I think in that way it contributed to me feeling like I was overdressed in high school [because] nobody did that. So it’s just like, you really stood out if you did.”
McMichael observed that the style at Tufts was partly similar to that of their high school save for a lack of preppiness and limited allegiance to brands like Vineyard Vines.
To McMichael, Tufts isn’t particularly “quirky” and students aren’t beholden to concentrated aesthetics.
“It’s more subtle. It’s in the little hair clip or the sock or the type of shoe,” McMichael said. “I feel like people aren’t going ‘gung ho’ on one intense, specific sort of situation.”
SMFA students seem to approach their style choices with more intentionality, according to McMichael.
“I can kind of recognize people by what they’re wearing to a certain extent,” McMichael said. “And I feel like you can tell that people have more of a strong identification with their personal appearance and style, even if it is low key. Or at least it seems like that.”
McMichael said that their more distinctive style has drawn influence from high-fashion designers, people on social media and most recently one friend from New York City.
“If I see something trending, I’m not gonna go out and buy it online,” they said. “So I just end up buying things that appeal to me. And that’s certainly influenced to a certain extent by the media I consume, but I feel like that’s a lot of what ends up making my clothing unique.”
Although their personal fashion style represents a large aspect of their self-expression and seems more noticeable, McMichael is surprised by how closely others may perceive their style to their actual identity.
“I think [my style] ties a lot into my queerness and my self-acceptance. But also it’s not that serious. I just think it’s entertaining,” McMichael said. “And sometimes it’s weird to me how much other people associate my style with who I am. It’s a little trippy.”
Like Moser, McMichael found that judging someone based on how they dress is unnecessary and reductive.
“Style can be such an indicator of certain things in certain ways,” McMichael said. “Like, among trans and queer folk there’s all this, ‘Oh, do I dress gay?’ … Obviously there’s so much more to a person and just because you can’t see it in their clothing doesn’t really mean anything.”