Along with many other college students…I’ve been in college for way too long now. Having to been graduated 2 years ago according to the “timeline,” I’ve come to the realization of why it’s taken me so long. I chose to go to fashion school when I was 17. When I was 17 I also chose to sneak boys in and out of the house (sorry mom), never did my homework, only cared about how I looked, and told myself that if I’m going to graduate high school on time I might as well graduate with a reputation as the class “Fashionista.” With that said, how was I in any right mind to decide what I wanted to do for the rest of my life? I only bring this up because part of me wishes I didn’t sign up to be a part of such a superficial world but after being in it for so long, I’ve realized why I was led this way.
Let me tell you what it’s really like to be in fashion school, specifically, Academy of Art University but I don’t doubt many others are just the same. 76% of our student population are all international students who don’t speak English. We have a 33% graduation rate with a given 4-8 years time. I myself, am currently in my 4th year still a ways to go because of taking no summer classes and having to drop classes because of “personal reasons.”
In the fashion department itself, the clique’s all look like K-pop singing groups covered in everything you’ve seen on the runways in the most recent NYFW. Backpacks are replaced with the most expensive designer bags I’ve ever seen along with a Saks Fifth Avenue shopping bag and showing up to any class in sweats is only socially acceptable if you’re an athlete. You can always pick out your biggest competitor on the first day, the one who raises their hand for everything and is probably the daughter of someone who owns a sweatshop in Indonesia or the 1 out of two white girls in the class. It has never failed for my peers to be impressed by my English as every semester I have to tell them I am from Michigan.
Academically, doing exactly what the rubric says for an assignment will only land you a “C,” maybe a B. Going above and beyond customizing your presentation experience by bringing fake invitations to your “launch party”, product samples, or hand-outs for everyone is what will land you an A and respect among-st your peers. The intimidation is fierce, the pressure is real, and for some of my teachers the devil does not only wear Prada but Chanel and Jimmy Choo too.
If you know me, you know I come from a humble family in the mid-west. Compared to my classmates, even though I’m known for my style at home, here I am what you can consider as what they like to call it “basic,” only because I’m not designer head to toe. So why am I in it, you ask? What is this realization that I’ve found? Now this may sound a little too literal but the best way to understand your opponent is to study them right? Study their tactics, their moves, secret weapons…I’ve been studying the industry for a long time now and along the way my “a-ha!” moment was realizing why this major has never been fulfilling for me. Hence, why it’s been so hard for me to finish. Internally, there was always something missing and I’ve found that this is an industry constantly telling women how they should look, equipping them with all the right clothes and shoes but never equipping them with an actual confidence to wear it all.
Confidence can’t be bought and the industry is basically trying to tell us that it can! “Look Good, Feel Good” is still a totally accurate statement in my book but let’s be honest about how long that feeling actually lasts. Working in the beauty industry along with studying fashion, I know that look of satisfaction in the mirror very well but when the labels and the fabrics are finally off, when she looks in the mirror does she feel the same?
In school I’ve found that our greatest resources are our peers and they are the ones who we can learn the most from but besides sharing where they got their entire outfit from or when the next H&M collab is coming out, I believe there’s something much more important that we can teach each other and that’s the fact that we don’t need any of these things to have confidence or more importantly, be happy. Inner Beauty 101 should be a core class in our major if you ask me because as designers, stylists, or merchandisers we should want to understand our customer on what truly will make her feel good in order to be a success.
To understand a woman’s body goes much more beyond average measurements and how fabric falls. Let’s get to know her insecurities, what she likes to show off, and what in her life will effect all of that. As fashion student’s we really won’t understand the real customer until we’re really in the industry, right? But what has history proven with recessions, with the shaping of society, but most importantly the repetitiveness of every average woman’s daily struggles. How can a fashion industry understand how her emotional health can effect her buying habits? What is the percentage of women making a purchase to fit in? To feel beautiful? This is what I want to know and this is what should really be taught.
Today’s social media and mainstream icons are telling us that big butts and tiny waists are sexy. This “ideal body” is constantly changing with time. Now I can’t take away Diane Von Furstenburg’s legendary wrap dress that changed the way women could camouflage their midriff insecurities or how CoCo Chanel made the little black dress the go-to for every single woman without fail but with the fashion industry’s only sister being the beauty industry, where is the industry or the movement that has women empowering one another telling them that they’re ALREADY BEAUTIFUL? This is what I have found to be missing. Our industry not understanding what is truly underneath it all.
Every first day of school is the same. All the girls (and a few boys!) coming to class dressed in an outfit straight off the runway and their highlight on fleek. It’s a bit catty and everyone’s new Kylie Liquid Lipstick makes their personality look dark but all I want to do is remind everyone what the legendary DVF always says and that’s,”You don’t have to be a bitch in fashion.” The fashion industry, let alone my school, does not have to be a cat eat cat world. My peers are fashion bloggers and makeup guru’s. If someone’s game is off, we notice…but this is what I’ve come to; that the girl who raises her hand answering everything on the first day doesn’t have to be a competitor. No one has to be a competitor. If my class is going to be the next generation of fashion influencers, let’s influence more than just a change in trends but an overall consumer buying habit moral.
Trends are important but let’s preach that if you’re not in on it, its okay too. Cheetah can always be in and of course, you can wear a tutu. If our customer knows that she is allowed to wear whatever the hell she wants because she likes it, regardless of her body type and current trend – isn’t that beneficial for all? Much more young designers would be a success. Why have the icons of fashion like Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Lady Gaga become the style influencers that are memorably known today? Because they wanted to, because they had the confidence to, because in their mind there are NO RULES. Let’s study their personalities and what influences their lives to have the confidence to wear what they’ve worn to become a legend. Women’s studies needs to be a necessity in the program, consumer psychology, and simply a class for us students to evaluate society in that current day to discuss and really get to know our “girl.” What is she seeing in her Instagram timeline? Who is she looking up to today and why? What is happening in society that is shaping her mind on how she should look? Pay attention people!
With all that said, that brings me to what I am doing about it. My name is Alyssa Camille, I am a Fashion Merchandising student with an expected title after graduation to be along the lines of “merchandiser, buyer, or director,” but I refuse. I, today and will always be an Inner Beauty Enthusiast, where my mission is to be the missing link in the fashion and beauty industry; to be of influence and of inspiration letting women know confidence truly does come from within. It can’t be found within a store or within a product, only within themselves. Mom, I promise I’m going to graduate but wherever I’ll fall into in the industry, I also promise that there will be change. Currently, I am in the works of writing my book, “You’re Kind of a Big Deal.” Coming from the average woman to another, I want her to know that no matter what body type, ethnicity, profession, or stereo-type they fall into, that within her own skin and within that very moment she already has the power to be the woman she wants to be.
Everything that the fashion industry feeds is appealing, sometimes thrilling, and fashion is an art like no other but allow me to be the one that before she makes her designer purchase to ask if that will truly make her feel beautiful and overall, happy.