The Arts Block runway

Fast fashion and conformity run contrary to the supposed free spirited thinking of the Arts Block, writes

The Arts Block runway is a reflection of the latest trends in Trinity’s fashion ecosystem. From windcheaters to fur jackets, to the latest Fila Disruptors, the Arts Block is a multi-coloured testament to what’s hot and what’s not. College is seen as a space in which people can express themselves, in particular through clothing. It’s a refreshing and exciting experience to move away from home and be afforded this opportunity to express yourself. But examining the Arts Block runway raises a question – are we truly freely expressing ourselves, or in fact, conforming to what could be considered something of a school uniform?

The fact is that despite everyone supposedly expressing their individuality, there is a recognisable coherence and conformity in the clothing of the Arts Block. When you see three people in the same day wearing the same multi-coloured fleece and dad trainers, you start to question whether it’s more than just a funny coincidence. The Arts Block runway seems to have a certain set of rules which contribute to the uniformity. Brands earn bonus points, and tracksuit pants are generally frowned upon. Clothing styles are even coherent on a course specific basis; you can arguably tell the difference between a History of Art student and a Law student from a mile away. The “freedom of expression” ideal has been pushed to an almost comedic extent, where despite everyone supposedly dressing “individually”, the Arts Block benches have become an indistinguishable sea of “different”, but very similar, clothing styles.

“The Arts Block doesn’t exactly afford that freedom.”

It’s not necessarily a problem, but the high standards of fashionable expression in Trinity certainly contribute to the stressful, high-strung culture that can be detrimental to the student experience. This is more of a point of interest than a genuine issue. The vast majority of the time, we feel excited and empowered by expressing ourselves, and we take pride in showing off our cool new clothes. However, there are undeniably moments that you just want to come into College in your favourite comfy tracksuit, and not have anyone look twice at you. The Arts Block doesn’t exactly afford that freedom.

Why should our choice of clothing be such a big deal? In the vast majority of colleges, campus is a relaxed environment where most people wear comfortable clothes, and very little fuss is made on a day to day basis. Those who want to dress up do so – and those who don’t want to bother, exist in the happy majority. Studying abroad, I was pleasantly surprised at the fact that it wasn’t the norm to wear your best expensive vintage clothing on a daily basis. It was refreshing and enjoyable not to have to worry every morning about what to wear. Has the Arts Block taken things to a ridiculous extreme?

For the record, this isn’t about condemning fashion and all those who wish to express themselves. The diverse array of clothing in the Arts Block is exciting, and for many people coming to college, presents the first real opportunity to truly wear what you like.

The issue arises when that sentiment of original individual expression becomes consolidated by trends and high-street shopping into a single unified “look”. The majority of the Arts Block attire is inarguably similar, to an almost ludicrous extent. Vintage clothing remains one of the most dominant trends.

“When Macklemore wrote Thrift Shop in 2012, he captured the zeitgeist of a generation newly obsessed with eccentric expressivity through charity shopping.”

When Macklemore wrote Thrift Shop in 2012, he captured the zeitgeist of a generation newly obsessed with eccentric expressivity through charity shopping. However, I wonder if he understood the extent of the Pandora’s box that he was opening. Seven years later, and the young person’s penchant for charity shopping has grown and morphed to reach a stage where students will pay absolutely anything for a vintage Nike jumper. Retailers like Tola Vintage and Nine Crows – infamous suppliers of the Arts Block uniform – capitalised on the vintage trend and sell clothing at a vastly inflated rate to their charity shop counterparts. The result is that Trinity fashion can often be less about what you can find, and more about how much you spend, at the expense of charity shops and sustainable fashion. For many, looking good – at whatever the cost – takes precedence over ethical and environmentally conscious clothing.

This is the unnerving aspect of the Arts Block runway; the ethical hypocrisy of the left-wing Arts student who wears a fashionable outfit that has been entirely sourced from sweatshop production. There exists a certain minority of self-righteous, conceited students who would consider themselves liberal and eco-friendly, but continue to purchase clothing from “fast fashion” retailers such as Zara, Topshop – or really, any of the major high-street clothing stores. Fast fashion is a form of “quick response” production in which clothes are produced on demand at a high-speed rate, in the cheapest form possible – often in sweatshops where workers suffer under appalling working conditions. The term “champagne socialist” could aptly be applied to some of these self-serious Arts Block fashionistas, who consider eating in Chopped and Sprout a heroic act of environmental martyrdom, but wilfully ignore the glaring ethical issue of supporting sweatshop clothing.

“This is the unnerving aspect of the Arts Block runway; the ethical hypocrisy of the left-wing Arts student who wears a fashionable outfit that has been entirely sourced from sweatshop production.”

It’s not the case that everyone who purchases clothes from major high-street “fast fashion” retailers is a hypocrite. The problem is simply that clothing is an often-neglected area of environmental and ethical concern for the average student. It’s currently environmentally “fashionable” to go vegetarian or use a keep-cup, which is great – but we shouldn’t avert our eyes from the glaring ethical issue of how our clothes are produced.

Having considered this, looking out over the sea of well-dressed, KeepCup-waving Arts students on the benches evokes a new, slightly uneasy feeling. However, let’s not throw out the proverbial fashionable Arts Block baby along with its murky, ethically questionable bathwater.

Trinity has been the site of some wonderfully creative fashion movements, such as clothing swap shops being set up, and sustainable clothing being championed. Shopping for sustainable clothing flies directly in the face of sweatshops and “fast fashion” – and can often yield more interesting and original outfits. This is the beauty of fashion; while money can help one to get the best clothing, it’s certainly not the only way. Savvy, innovative charity-shop frequenters, and generally all those who shop sustainably, can circumvent the economic obstacles and still become the best dressed on campus.

The Arts Block, at its core, presents a menagerie of unique and creative forms of expression. We should continue to appraise this originality and feel proud about what we wear – while simultaneously striving to source clothes in the most sustainable fashion possible. The bottom line is that everyone should feel comfortable to wear what they want. College can feel stiflingly competitive at times, and clothing shouldn’t exist as just another form of that contest.

Hugh Whelan

Hugh Whelan is a current Deputy Comment Editor of Trinity News. He is a Junior Sophister English Literature and Film Studies student.