Dress Casual

Dress Casual: How College Students Redefined American Style

Deirdre Clemente
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Dress Casual
    Book Description:

    As Deirdre Clemente shows in this lively history of fashion on American college campuses, whether it's jeans and sneakers or khakis with a polo shirt, chances are college kids made it cool. The modern casual American wardrobe, Clemente argues, was born in the classrooms, dormitories, fraternity and sorority houses, and gyms of universities and colleges across the country. As young people gained increasing social and cultural clout during the early twentieth century, their tastes transformed mainstream fashion from collared and corseted to comfortable. From east coast to west and from the Ivy League to historically black colleges and universities, changing styles reflected new ways of defining the value of personal appearance, and, by extension, new possibilities for creating one's identity.The pace of change in fashion options, however, was hardly equal. Race, class, and gender shaped the adoption of casual style, and young women faced particular backlash both from older generations and from their male peers. Nevertheless, as coeds fought dress codes and stereotypes, they joined men in pushing new styles beyond the campus, into dance halls, theaters, homes, and workplaces. Thanks to these shifts, today's casual style provides a middle ground for people of all backgrounds, redefining the meaning of appearance in American culture.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-1547-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    What are you wearing? Whether it is jeans and sneakers or khakis with a sports coat, chances are college kids made it cool.

    The modern American wardrobe was born on the college campus in the first half of the twentieth century. Its creators were the knickers-clad members of Princeton’s Cottage Club, the women of the University of California’s “Committee to Wear Pants to Dinner,” and the sweatshirted students of Penn State. Collegians such as Dick Eberhart (Dartmouth, Class of 1926) and Erin Goseer (Spelman, Class of 1955) cherry-picked a collection of functional garments and wove together a manner of dress...

  5. CHAPTER ONE In the Public Eye
    (pp. 12-42)

    In the first half of the twentieth century, college students seemed to be everywhere. Their football games were followed at a national level, their dances were deemed immoral, and their hygiene habits were suspect. Journalists, social commentators, and educators dissected nearly every aspect of collegians’ culture, and did so in front of a very interested American public. Songs such as 1925’s “Collegiate” proclaimed the undergrad’s arrival: “Trousers baggy. And our clothes look raggy. But we’re rough and ready.”¹ They were rough and ready—to play and to buy.

    Collegians came to national attention in the 1910s, phased into a raccoon-coated...

  6. CHAPTER TWO On the Campus
    (pp. 43-69)

    Casual style was born of practicality. Students chose low-heeled oxfords for long walks across the quad and cardigan sweaters to stay warm in drafty buildings. One Vassar student foretold the fashion future: “If dormitory temperatures next year are as low as they were this past winter, jackets will be important.”¹ The geography of each campus demanded different concessions. For her freshman year in 1917, Cal student Agnes Edwards lived in a boardinghouse on the edge of town. She complained to her mother about the long walk to campus: “The whole town is the hilliest thing I ever saw.” In the...

  7. CHAPTER THREE In the Dorm
    (pp. 70-91)

    “Dormitory life,” wrote theRadcliffe Newsin 1938, “is a noun that defies definition.” Cigarette breaks, impromptu pranks, “bull” sessions, and midnight snacks were only part of communal living. To many dwellers, “their conversation, their shared experiences, and their mutual appreciation of each other’s woes and merry moments” forged the most enduring memories of college. As one student put it, “A group of weary girls, clustered on the stairs at 12:00 or 1:00 after dates can produce the most congenial atmosphere of good fellowship known to man.”¹ Since the turn of the century, the intricacies of dorm life intrigued the...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR On a Date
    (pp. 92-115)

    Nearly every student had at least one—a date. Even Chalmers Alexander went to dinner with “that Russell girl,” a soon-to-be Smith freshman, “plump in tendency but so far not plump, rather pretty with irregular teeth,” who “dresses in the New York manner.”¹ Student letters to parents, notes scribbled in diaries, and odes to the subject in campus newspapers all confirm that dating defined most students’ social lives. “Dates are quite important on a campus,” Spelman women agreed, and “may be anything from a few minutes spent in an evening to the most formal college proms.”² For many collegians, the...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE In the Gym
    (pp. 116-137)

    In May 1930, the editors of theDartmouthchallenged their readers to “bring forth your treasured possession—be it tailored to fit or old flannels delegged” so that the men could “lounge forth to the supreme pleasure of complete leg freedom.”¹ The students rose to the challenge. The Shorts Protest of 1930 brought out more than 600 students in old basketball uniforms, tweed walking shorts, and newly minted cutoffs (see figure 5.1). The demonstration caused a rush on local merchants such as Campion’s and Dudley’s, who sold upwards of 300 pairs of shorts; the college’s co-op sold 250 pairs. The...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 138-146)

    This book is about more than clothing. It is about how, when, where, and why cultural standards are tested and then recast. At its most overt, casual style broke with thousands of years of tradition when we used clothing as a steadfast delineator of race, class, gender, and age. Things got a whole lot trickier in the twentieth century. Male (and female) CEOs sported ponytails to the office, and suburban seventh-graders turned their hat brim one tweak too far. At its most personal, casual style redefined our relationship to our clothes: how we want them to fit, what parts of...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 147-176)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 177-192)
  13. Index
    (pp. 193-196)