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Fashion at Western Carolina
Cultural History  



Corsets and garters

Wingtips and letters

Retro rebellions

Fashion Throughout the Years at WCU

By Curtis Sikes

Abercrombie and Fitch, Old Navy, The Gap, and Express are just a few of the popular name brands of fashion in today’s society of college students at Western Carolina University.  Most students at WCU are defined by the clothes they wear.  Fashion has a huge influence on cliques.  Though many students would not admit that their clothes define them, fashion does express who they are and what interests them.  Today at WCU skater, preppy, gothic, country, and athletic looks are prevalent.  These styles have developed over time, but in the history of fashion at WCU, styles were very different.  It’s easy to laugh at changing fashions, but they tell us about who we were and who we want to be.

Corsets, garters, and patent leather

At the turn of the 20th century at WCU, male students sat in classrooms wearing trousers and lightweight, cotton knit shirts, while female students wore corsets.  The corsets had long hips to make the waist appear small.  Garters were also popular.  Women wore skirts with knee-high slits to make walking and getting in and out of vehicles easier.  Students walked to class in patent leather, high-buttoned shoes.  Women bobbed their hair, and hats were popular among both male and female students.

Before World War I, female styles at WCU began to change.  Dresses became shorter, revealing more, and hair became shorter.  After WWI, and into the '20's, the women wore long dresses and blouses, while the men wore slacks with coats.

Wingtips and letterman sweaters

In the 30's, the fashion evolved into the casual look.   Clothing was lighter in weight and color (creams, tans, and earth tones).  The guys wore long-sleeved shirts and baggy, wide-legged pants with belts.  The footwear included saddle shoes, buckskins, Spectators, and Wing Tips.  Some optional accessories for the men included bow ties, golf caps and 30's style letterman sweaters with the WCU school logo.  The ladies wore either day dresses or pleated skirts with light colored tops, such as fitted sweaters.  They wore strapped shoes, saddle shoes or plain low heels.  Accessories included a matching scarf or ribbon tied in the hair.

 The '50s and the 60's were known for rock-and-roll, Elvis, root beer and poodle skirts.  Attire at WCU for male students during this time included gray flannel suits, white t-shirts and tight blue or black jeans. Women wore dresses with pinched in waists, poodle skirts made of felt decorated with sequins, acrylic sweaters and high heels.

From the early to mid 1970's, students at WCU strolled down the street in their bellbottom pants, tie-dyed shirts and fringed leather.  This time was also known as the Hippie decade in which students had long hair, beards and hemp necklaces.  They also wore earth shoes, which were heavy, clunky shoes that slanted back with the heel lower than the toe.  The front of the shoes was broader than the back.  According to Tom Gamble, a French professor at WCU, the students wore, "hippie sorta stuff."  Tom has lived in Cullowhee since the '70s and he experienced the whole hippie movement and fashion.

Retro rebellions

Gamble says, “after the '70s the style became more normal.” Students on campus started to wear regular relaxed attire.  They wore normal jeans and t-shirts similar to what students today at WCU are wearing.

Speaking of today, many students at WCU are enjoying the fashion trends of the 21st century.  The newer, cooler clothes are more available these days to most students because of easy-to-get jobs and clothing sales at stores.  The popular brand names seem to define particular styles among college students, whether it is the preppy look or the gothic look.  Students are drawn toward certain groups; within those groups, fashion reflects the students.  There are many stereotypes from clothing.  Even during the 50’s, students who wore the tight jeans and leather jackets were known to be rebellious. Like today, students who have the gothic look or skater look are viewed as rebellious and wild.  History repeats itself through different clothing styles.  People will always be stereotyped and defined by the clothing they wear, whether the clothes really reflect the person or not.

Fashions, styles and trends always change with the times.  There is no exception of the changes that have taken place in the area of fashion and clothing at WCU.  As students continue to come and go at WCU, there will always be new fashions, new styles and that is what makes WCU unique and appealing.

Works Cited

Kingwood College Library American Cultural History