Undergraduate Student Blog, Speaking of Princeton

Undergraduate Student Blog

Author: Carmina Aguilar Mancenon ’14

Tokyo, Japan and Manila, Philippines • Operations Research and Financial Engineering View Profile

Four Ways that Princeton Is Fashionable

Heels, dresses, and...textbooks?

A few hours before the first day of international orientation at Princeton, I spent a good amount of time rummaging through all the clothes that my 23kg baggage allowance from Tokyo would allow me to bring to America. The first day of school is the best time to experiment with my clothes and decide on an outfit that expressed my personality, I thought. I settled on a patterned sundress, sunnies, and my most comfortable sandals. Little did I know that at Princeton there would be a multitude of other avenues for me to express myself through fashion, even in an academic setting.

1. Academics

Princeton truly has a way of turning any topic into an academic discourse, whether it's food, sports or even fashion.

Class: In my sophomore year, I had the chance to take AAS 314 "Model Memoirs: The Life Stories of International Fashion Models" with Professor Wendy Belcher with the following course description: "Explores the life-writing of American, African, and Asian women in the fashion industry as a launching point for thinking about race, gender, and class. How do ethnicity and femininity intersect? How are authenticity and difference commodified? How do women construct identities through narrative and negotiate their relationships to their bodies, families and nations?"

Independent Work: For many of the seminar classes at Princeton, students are given freedom to shape their papers and projects in such a way that they can explore their own interests. For three of the seminar classes at Princeton, I wrote three papers about the fashion industry. Check out the following table for some of the aspects of fashion I had the chance to explore. One of the most exciting parts about this for me was being able to gain a new perspective of the fashion industry through the lenses of professors from various departments: philosophy, journalism, biology and American studies.

Class Title Title of My Paper/Project

ENV321 Ethical and Scientific Issues in Environmental Policy 

"Do consumers have the ethical responsibility to make aesthetic sacrifices in their clothing choices for the environment’s sake?” - An environmental ethics paper

AMS307 The Art of Sustainability  Bags2Riches - An interactive, mobile project presented in the Princeton Art Museum about Sustainable Fashion

JRN448 The Media and Social Issues - Reporting Inequality

"The Rags Beneath the Robes” - A journalism article that explores income inequality in the modeling industry

2. Extracurricular Activities

Sustainable Fashion Initiative
Models at Princeton Fashion Week. Photo Credits to Christian Birky.

In Tokyo, I watched families exit shops with designer clothes. In Manila, children shopped for food from trash dumps. These experiences gave my 14 year-old self a first hand peek into global economic disparities. Yet, as a young girl growing up in the megacities of Manila and Tokyo, I unconsciously indulged in these beauty-driven societies. Aware of the hardships other children faced, I scrolled through dresses on Topshop’s online store with a side of guilt. I yearned to reconcile my coupled interests in international development and fashion—two opposing lifestyles. 

Thus, along with Meg Partridge ’14 and Jenna Rodrigues ’14, I co-founded the Sustainable Fashion Initiative that promotes a socially and environmentally responsible understanding of fashion on campus and investigates practices that will enhance sustainability in the fashion industry as a whole. One of our keystone events is Princeton Fashion Week, which brings in sustainable designers from New York City and student models for a fashion show, along with Do It Yourself workshops and speaker events.

To some, it might seem superficial to devote your civic engagement energy to fashion. However, fashion goes beyond glossy magazine pages; if used well, it introduces girls to policy, entrepreneurship and science—key skills for the female pioneer. Girls that joined SFI because they were initially lured in by the glamour of fashion are now Editors of Verte, an eco-friendly magazine and CEOs of Stitch Your Story, a fashion company. 

The Sustainable Fashion Initiative is only one fashion organization on campus. Other students are part of other organizations such as Her Campus, organize fashion shows such as Fashion Speaks and are campus ambassadors for businesses such as Rent the Runway.

Sustainable Fashion Initiative
Photo credits to Princeton University

3. Off-campus Shopping

While Nassau Street, the road adjacent to the University’s main gates, is home to higher-end brands, there are some thrift store gems there, too. Some of my recommended spots are Nearly New and Green Street Consignment. These have proven particularly great places to shop for events on campus that put fashion creativity to use such as Princetoween (Princeton’s version of Halloween) and Cap ‘80s Prom (an event in my eating club).

5. People watching

This is probably the Tokyo girl in me talking, but I love the feeling of being able to look up from writing my thesis and feel the bustling vibrancy of campus, especially to admire the outfits that Princeton students piece together! Some of my favorite spots are the Marquand Library for Art and Archaeology that boasts floor-to-ceiling windows, and of course, my dorm room.