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Is Comfort the New Couture? Current Baylor Campus Fashion Trends

Baylor fashion students are finding that apparel trends are riding a wave of nostalgia now, where comfort is king.

From miniskirts to platform shoes, leg warmers to parachute pants, ripped jeans to cargo pants, fashion trends come and go. Classic looks like a plain white tee seem never to go out of style, but even some fads, like athleisure, that seem like passing trends end up having real staying power. Others — acid-wash denim, stirrup pants, and jelly shoes — have become downright cringe-worthy in retrospect. So, what influences our fashion choices in the first place?

“Fashion is a reflection of society,” says Lorynn Divita, Associate Professor of Apparel Merchandising at Baylor University. Students in her Fashion Forecasting and Trend Analysis class look at the cultural zeitgeist to anticipate how cultural, economic, and political events will shape consumer preferences in the near future.

In her book Dress Casual: How College Students Redefined American Style, Deidre Clemente argues that the “modern American wardrobe was born on the college campus in the first half of the twentieth century.” Clemente calls it “casual style.” Think sweaters and khakis, jeans and sneakers. The historical context for the shift from collared to comfortable, she says, is significant. Seismic events like the Depression, world wars, the rise of Hollywood and comic books, and two waves of American feminism all ushered in new modes of thinking on fashion.

Fashion student Ashton Lowetz’s “Coolhunting” trends board.

“Society changes, and fashion changes with it,” agrees Divita, who is not at all surprised that in these troubled times, fashion is riding a wave of nostalgia where comfort is king. “We’re looking for coziness on a macro level, clothing that envelopes us like a big hug.” It’s why we’re fond of comfort food and reboots of shows like “Frasier” that offer a pleasant reprieve from the real world.

On a recent “Coolhunting expedition,” her students set out to determine what’s trending on and off campus, and their findings were enlightening. The idea was not just to look for what’s popular or pretty, but to take note of what looks novel or peculiar.

“I tell them that they might even react negatively at first,” says Divita, who explains that what looks unfamiliar to us at first is often the kind of thing that everyone will be wearing in six months.

Take Hoka sneakers, which seemed too extreme for some people at first until they discovered how comfortable they are. Now their identifiable look is an asset instead of a drawback.

Their findings included a few individuals who stood out precisely because their fashion choices were so innovative, like the guy who bikes around campus in a military helmet. Or one student the fashion students call the “tie guy” because he uses neckties in creative ways, say, wearing one with a T-shirt or letting it dangle from the belt loop on a pair of pants. People are also customizing clothing so that it is unique to them. One girl hand-painted her denim duster with the words NOWHERE TO GO 2 EXCEPT PLANET EARTH.

Fashion student Amy McTagggart’s “Coolhunting” trends board.

The most fashion-forward students on campus? You’re likely to find them in the art department. Everyone else tends to dress for comfort in crewneck T-shirts with biker shorts, joggers, or flared pants. When it comes to footwear, the “ugly shoe” trend is alive and well on campus, and Divita’s students are not immune, though they prefer Birkenstocks to Crocs, which a lot of students wear for comfort, not fashion.

Now if you want to see what the cool kids are wearing off campus, there are a few places in Waco that are perfect for trendspotting. Coffee shops are a big part of the social scene, and some stay open late. Pinewood Coffee Bar is open seven days a week until 10 p.m. Although For Keeps Coffee & Bakery closes at 5, it’s been described as a place designed for comfort, conversation, and creatives, which makes it a good place to observe what those “creatives” are wearing.

Another place to see and be seen is at the college service at Antioch Community Church in Waco on Wednesday nights. Meanwhile, the Eastside Market, a monthly event in East Waco that provides artists, artisans, and entrepreneurs with a community space in which to grow and prosper, always attracts a fashion-forward crowd.

Students report that it’s fairly common to change clothes three times a day and that what they wear impacts their posture, which impacts their intentions.

What’s trending right now are oversize denim jackets; flowy silhouettes, from loose-fitting tops to maxi skirts in lightweight fabrics that trail behind you as you move; and matching sets (sweats in the same color and fabric or knit tops and pants in matching prints or patterns). Tote bags (the bigger the better) are in; backpacks are out. Overalls are a “must” as are trucker hats with graphics on them. Right now, a clothing line inspired by the landscapes and cultures of the American West from Sendero Provisions Co. in Waco is blowing up. They make flat-billed baseball caps with graphics on them that are going to be huge, predict the Baylor students. Stylish kicks from Hoka are beloved on campus, but Nike, New Balance, and Adidas are other popular brands. When it comes to jewelry, look for chunky hoop earrings that make a statement and layers of necklaces in a mix of silver and gold.

While most students dress casually during the week, they like to express themselves on the weekends. Girls might wear a maxi skirt or dressy jeans and a crop top to dinner on Friday night at Moroso or Di Campli, popular Italian restaurants in Waco. Saturday brunch at Milo, which offers Southern comfort grub, requires something feminine, say, a pretty, short dress.

Fashion student Brooke Meador’s “Coolhunting” trends board.

It’s not surprising that a lot of students shop online for clothes. Two sites they like are freepeople.com and shopdailydrills.com. Locally, you’ll find them browsing through the cool finds at Wildland, a Waco retailer that offers a modern, curated collection of utilitarian clothing, or Prefontaine, a flagship for forward-thinking, updated, and modern fashion. Roots Boutique in downtown Waco features on-trend clothing and accessories, and it’s owned by Brooke Erbe, a Baylor alum of the apparel program. Austin is a couple of hours away, but students make the trip just to explore the thrift stores and little boutiques popping up there.

Last May, Divita took her class to New York for 10 days, where they did some trendspotting and visited the corporate offices of companies like Saks Off Fifth and Tailored Brands, which owns Men’s Warehouse and Joseph A. Banks. A graduate of the fashion program at Baylor who works at Decker Brands, the parent company for UGGS, Teva, and Hoka, arranged a tour of the facility. A trip to Europe is planned for 2024 to take their trend forecasting international.

Comfort is perhaps the strongest fashion trend going.

“There is an old French saying that translates roughly as ‘beauty is pain.’ We used it to justify shoving our feet into stiletto shoes,” says Divita. “The Baylor students who went to New York with me last year? They wore short dresses and sneakers.”

Feature image by Mary Turner

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