Dress to Express

An Exploration of Barnard’s Self-Expression Through Fashion.

First-years Snowden Overgaard and Natasha Last (Photo Credit: Jenna Shen)

Across college campuses in the country, students are known for dressing in casual attire. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to walk into an early morning class and find students sporting sweatpants and other comfortable gear. However, this casual fashion trend seems not to be the case at Barnard — take a walk across campus and you’ll be greeted by a number of students dressed to the nines. 

There seems to be a general stereotype that students at Barnard have a keen sense of fashion and style, but how exactly did this culture come to be?

Snowden Overgaard (BC ‘27) notes that a passion for fashion seems to be a common thread among Barnard students: “The kind of people that Barnard attracts are people that care about fashion or are interested in it, at least, hence why there’s so many fashion connections on campus.”

Many students at Barnard use fashion as a vehicle to express themselves and their personalities. While a large part of fashion revolves around trend cycles, fashion also relies on individuality. Being surrounded by unique personal styles serves as inspiration for a lot of Barnard students, and compels students to follow suit and form individualized, curated looks – this is only furthered by the stylish surroundings of New York City. In general, the city has served as a fashion hub for generations. Transitively, many students interested in attending college in NYC find themselves interested in fashion. 

Senior Lily Davenport sits outside of the Diana Center. (Photo Credit: Jenna Shen)

Lily Davenport (BC ’24), says she pays close attention to Barnard students’ style: “I love to look at what other people are wearing and I get a lot of inspiration from what other people are wearing for my own outfits.” In today’s age, trends spread rapidly especially due to the presence of social media. The same principle seems to hold true on Barnard’s campus; one pair of cute ballet flats seen on a student at Liz’s Place can quickly trigger a wave of popularity for these dainty shoes. 

Due to a heightened sense of safety on campus, some students find themselves at ease expressing themselves through clothing on Barnard’s campus — specifically more so than in their respective hometowns. The tight-knit and supportive community within Barnard fosters an ability for students to freely express themselves through many mediums, one prominent example being fashion. 

“I wouldn’t wear some of the things I wear here back home. I like to really utilize that while I’m here,” said Davenport. 

“I definitely use [fashion] to express my queerness, at Barnard specifically. I sometimes don’t do that at home — like I won’t wear my keychain on my belt loop at home, but I’ll do that here,” says Fiona Bird (BC ‘25). 

Fiona Bird (BC ‘25) sports a pair of overalls. (Photo Credit: Jenna Shen)

In almost a cyclical fashion, students on Barnard’s campus embrace a sense of individuality through select fashion choices and trends and in turn, become inspired by the personal styles of others. 

Bird notes how fashion often combines with multiple aspects of one’s personality to create a holistic portrait:  “My fashion sense is important to me as the music I’m listening to, the TV shows I’m watching; it comes together to form this world of media and expression that I get to live in and it shifts over time… It’s sort of like a secret language that’s intertwined with queerness and womanhood, whatever that means to you.” 

Lynn Tang (BC ‘27) notes that flowy dresses are a current favorite trend. (Photo Credit: Jenna Shen)

Fashion and style has come to be a defining aspect of the culture at Barnard. Of all the unique styles and trends that circulate around campus, some recent trends that students have loved are as follows: vests, flowy skirts, tote bags, low-waisted jeans, off-the-shoulder tops/dressed, overalls, Sandy Liang-inspired  bow accessories, leg warmers, and ‘90s style turtlenecks under t-shirts!

While there is admittedly a slight pressure sometimes to present as put-together (especially following a sweaty gym session or a hurried scramble to get to class), most students find the dress up culture at Barnard empowering — students find inspiration within other students and use fashion to express all facets of their personalities.

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