Self-expression at UC Berkeley: En vogue or dead?

BARE Magazine promises continued reinvention, following the footsteps of Joan Didion

Fashion highlighted by BARE magazine
Lieyah Dagan/BARE/Courtesy

Fashion is a manifesto of identity, a stylish creed. It is a fast and exciting medium, prevalent in pop culture, feeding our sense of vision, and sense of satisfaction. Elegance, sex appeal, vintage simplicity or edgy intrigue — we sensationalize our wardrobes to feel things, and we idolize our fashion icons as leaders in design. Fashion is fun.

Or at least it used to be.

In recent decades, the fashion industry has evolved into a new entity all together, one that is mainly just that: an industry, and less of a creative space for self-expression. A medium that has traditionally been considered one of beauty and cutting-edge creativity has taken a bleak turn towards designing purely to adhere to a preconceived template of “hip style.” It’s all about fitting the trend.

UC Berkeley has deep roots of interconnectivity between fashion and social consciousness. Most are aware that the school, and the city at large, has historically been attributed with embracing freedom: freedom of speech, freedom of identity and above all else, freedom of self-expression. One avenue where this quality really flourishes is fashion — the campus is host to numerous fashion-oriented groups who aim to be proactive through design. BARE Magazine is one such group.

In recent decades, the fashion industry has evolved into a new entity all together, one that is mainly just that: an industry, and less of a creative space for self-expression.

I was first introduced to BARE Magazine — the fashion and arts editorial of UC Berkeley — when a friend of mine asked if I would be the subject of her photoshoot: a retrospective on pantsuits, featuring the then leading pantsuit maven, Hillary Clinton. When I agreed to do the shoot, I was anticipating a casual, if not simplistic procedure: show up, snap a few shots, call it a day, stay tuned to see the final images come out with the article the following week. Right?

Wrong.

In the midst of the shoot, I realized that what I had instead become a small part of was a beautiful and thoughtful process that involved fully imagined details, a jaw-dropping level of collaboration and creative flow, astute political commentary and visionary images. I was suddenly very overwhelmed. After all, it takes a lot to match the moxie and artistic boldness that oozes from every pore of BARE’s complexion.

How has BARE been able to maintain this creative freedom despite the crimped condition of the fashion industry at large? If we take a look at the history of campus life, fashion as a platform to propagate ideas has actually been a constant framework by which we uphold a lifestyle of political activism and social consciousness.  BARE is playing right into this legacy.

“In terms of a grander purpose … my goal is to somehow make a magazine that is intelligent in its inquiry, both visual and written,” said Alexandra Pink, co- Editor-in-Chief of BARE. Pink is a fourth year Arts Practice major who got her start with BARE magazine as a model during her freshman year. Pink spends a considerable amount of time contemplating what the student body is feeling or wanting, and asking: How can BARE articulate these things through visual art?

“My goal is to somehow make a magazine that is intelligent in its inquiry, both visual and written.”

— Alexandra Pink

According to Pink, there has been quite an evolution in the role fashion plays in self-expression, as evidenced by the metamorphosis of the magazine itself. In its infancy, the magazine struggled with identity, just as mainstream fashion does today.

Pink refers to BARE’s beginnings as “an interesting exercise in posturing,” contrasting it to the magazine today. “(Now) it’s a little bit more real in terms of how old we are and what we have to say as 19, 20, 21-year-olds,” she said. “We are only just a little over 10 years old, and there’s been a clear tonal shift, an evolution.”

For BARE, it’s not about the trend — it’s about “ the sort of self-fulfilling, artist way of making things,” Pink describes.

But her commentary on fashion beyond the magazine strikes a more metallic chord.

If we are all posing for an image, how do we preserve the original artistic intention of fashion and other forms of self-expression as crucial outlets for activism?

Today, Pink notices that many people are striving for cool or innovative looks via their style, but they are likely doing so just for the image. This lack of authenticity thwarts the true power that can come with expressing one’s self through fashion. According to her, there is still work to be done to break the mold that limits the free flow of personal expression.

Photo by Lieyah Dagan. Courtesy of BARE.

Photo by Lieyah Dagan. Courtesy of BARE.

 

The co-Editor-in-Chief also discussed how the shift in trends, on campus and beyond, speaks to a larger-scale abandonment of artistry within the entire industry. There is now a substantial (and growing) “space between the designer themselves, and their ‘name,’ their label, their brand…” Pink said. “It’s less about personal genius.”

Starting in the 1980s with the invention of the “supermodel,” and then perpetuated over time by inescapable advertisements and most recently, by social media, the fashion industry has become plagued by consumerism and the need to sell. This macro-level digression has now impeded upon the personal side of the binary structure of fashion:

“To pretend that no one is dressing up is a fucking lie. We’re all dressing up!” Pink laughed sardonically.

If we are all posing for an image, how do we preserve the original artistic intention of fashion and other forms of self-expression as crucial outlets for activism?

Pink acknowledges that for a university, UC Berkeley is unique in its efforts to embrace all expressions of personal style. But she makes a point to call out how “there is definitely the myth of Berkeley’s ‘wonderful permissive’ spirit.”  

“There is an interesting ‘be sensible’ bend to (people’s) freedoms,” Pink said with a hint of disappointment in her voice.

Her sentiments, coupled with the powerful artistic direction of BARE and other campus groups, seem to indicate a total reconstruction is in store for the fashion world — something to counteract the dilution of the industry. Can fashion-activism be rectified on campus, so as to maintain UC Berkeley’s famed political fountainhead?

UC Berkeley is no stranger to a narrative like this one: it starts with cultural malaise, and bogged down complacency. It ends in total revolution.

The transition between the 1950s and 1960s on the UC Berkeley campus lives on in history as one of the most colorful movements in this country’s past. Berkeley, California was the motherland of political dissent: Self education and expression via art was the method for progressing this movement.

The radical reinvention of fashion was one prominent dimension of the crusade on culture. In general, UC Berkeley was the ideal platform to foster the spirited youth culture, as people like Joan Baez, a folk-singing political renegade, Timothy Leary, an ex-Harvard professor exploring psychedelics, Allen Ginsberg, a poet and Beatnik, and many others all flocked to this inspired environment. Mario Savio, a graduate student, spearheaded the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s that’s become a gleaming facet of Cal’s identity. But before this campaign swept the nation, the politicized voice of fashion on campus had taken hold and sparked the conversation.

The radical reinvention of fashion was one prominent dimension of the crusade on culture.

In 1953, Joan Didion started her freshman year at UC Berkeley, and the campus has never been the same since.

Didion, an author who later captured the cataclysmic and beautiful condition of 1960’s Counterculture in her written works, actually played a pivotal role in provoking such a cultural revolution during her own time on campus as an undergraduate.

The platform she used to bring about social justice? Indeed, it was fashion. Didion launched her career out of fashion-journalism.

Freshman year, Didion did what most women at the time did, and joined a sorority. However, she “began to detach from this narrative even as she was living it,” documents Libbey Rainy, a UC Berkeley alumna and former Daily Cal contributor who wrote her research thesis on the “Berkeley roots of Joan Didion’s career.” Didion began to invest herself entirely in The Daily Californian and the literary magazine, The Occident.

As a woman living in a world confined to keeping up-to-date on the most stylish trends, “Didion found fashion writing to be her most immediately available creative outlet — a space where she could observe the feminine world around her from both inside and out,” claims Rainy.

“The spring 1953 fashion issue – her first writerly project at Berkeley – is a portrait of the complex female life Didion strove not only to describe, but also to influence.”

Didion had grim reflections on the times during which she was a student.

“We were all very personal then, sometimes relentlessly so, and at that point, where we either act or do not act, most of us are still,” Didion recollected in one interview. “I suppose I am talking about just that: the ambiguity of belonging to a generation distrustful of political highs, the historical irrelevancy of growing up convinced that the heart of darkness lay not in some error of social organization but in man’s own blood.”

“We were all very personal then, sometimes relentlessly so, and at that point, where we either act or do not act, most of us are still.”

— Joan Didion

It was this understanding of her generation’s complacency, coupled with her freedom from inhibitions, that enabled Didion to unfurl the silence, thus propelling her into a lifelong career of both political and creative literary expression. Her actions through fashion-journalism stoked a visible shift towards the politically charged campus we all associate with UC Berkeley.

So clearly, Pink is not the first to be frustrated with current campus culture; very much like Joan Didion, as an individual dedicated to inciting social progress by means of interlacing art and politics, Pink feels motivated to be proactive. Her work as Editor-in-Chief at BARE has illustrated this.

What only time can tell now, is how we will move forward to handle the situation of a degenerated creative culture on campus today. While there is still work to be done in heightening awareness, it seems like today’s fashion groups are up for the challenge.

For many, it is a creative version of identity; the apparel we select can speak volumes to who we are and what we see in ourselves. Beyond that, it’s a multifaceted apparatus that can galvanize movements.

Despite evidence of a hollowing out of fashion’s own genuine artistry, UC Berkeley fashion groups have made impressive efforts to color their work with insightful objectives.

In addition to BARE’s efforts, FAST — Fashion and Student Trends — takes thoughtful measures to enrich their designs with deeper meaning. Each semester, members create single designs that tell a story; entire collections that express revelations. FAST’s most recent Spring showcase featured intersectionality, diversity, and the hot-topic of the Times Up Movement.

In her reflection on these matters, Pink’s opinion of UC Berkeley as a special place of heighted social consciousness came to light: “the de facto use of clothes and image-making on women’s bodies [is] a huge tool for communicating how you identify socially, what you believe it right, etc. No matter where these clothes are coming from, people are going to use them and shape them in their own way.”

Photo by Maddy Rotman and Lieyah Dagan. Courtesy of BARE.

Photo by Maddy Rotman and Lieyah Dagan. Courtesy of BARE.

 

Fashion as a mode of self-expression has always been a powerful dynamic, and one that has deep historical roots at UC Berkeley. Our wardrobes serve as a physical manifestation of how we see ourselves. For some, clothing may simply be an essential part of the daily routine: social protocol involves dressing yourself each morning. But for others, fashion is political, it’s personal and it’s extremely important. For many, it is a creative version of identity; the apparel we select can speak volumes to who we are and what we see in ourselves. Beyond that, it’s a multifaceted apparatus that can galvanize movements.

We must remain cognizant of the power we wield through our stylistic choices, so we can uphold the legacy that’s central to this campus. In order for this to happen, we must reclaim ownership of our self-expression with the same authenticity, conviction and reverence that’s been integral in shaping the creative culture on campus.

Contact Jacqueline Moran at [email protected]