Wearing Your Wallet: The Style and Cost of Georgetown Fashion

October 14, 2016

M Street in the Georgetown neighborhood in 2017. Photo by Isabel Lord

The idea of college fashion as casual and cheap is practically universal in this country. However, most students on this campus would agree that Georgetown is different. Here, style and sweatpants are fundamentally incompatible.

“The two big criticisms that I think can be leveled against Georgetown shops are: there’s not enough diversity and it’s too expensive,” said Gabriel Katsuya (SFS ’19), an international student who says his style is a reflection of the European culture he grew up in. “I would say that the fashion culture and style at Georgetown … falls in line mostly with what you could find in a Vineyard Vines or Polo Ralph Lauren catalogue.”

Buffalo Exchange, a national resale chain, is one of only a few affordable clothing stores in the Georgetown area, but by catering to the quintessential collegiate prep style, it doesn’t provide as much as it could in terms of price range and availability of choices. The cheapest fleece offered, a used brown North Face, costs $20. While that price is considerably less than a new one, the exact same fleece is available for half that price on Poshmark, an online resale shop. And even with more inexpensive brands, such as Columbia, the used fleece in the store costs only one dollar less than a new one on Amazon.

“Georgetown has a very high-end designer look,” said Indira Shingler, an acting store manager at Buffalo. “We try to get similar styles to what’s in this area and make it a reasonable price.”

The Buffalo location by Logan Circle offers clothing at cheaper prices and with a less-preppy look than those at the Georgetown location. Examples range from a striped t-shirt with funky patches on it for $10, a pair of black mid-calf, worn leather boots for $13, and even a Cynthia Rowley blouse for $15, which usually retails for over $200. Although the staff members declined to comment on the differences between their shop and the one in Georgetown, the contrasts in pricing and style were apparent.

Aanchal Sahay (COL ’18), a transfer from Rutgers, said that she has found good quality clothing at the Buffalo in Logan Circle, but that it’s not necessarily easy to find clothes that fit and that are worth the price. According to Sahay, the style at Rutgers involved more sweatpants, whereas people at Georgetown put more effort into their appearances.

“I certainly felt more comfortable rolling out of bed and going to class there,” Sahay said.

She described her style as casual, and even though she didn’t necessarily see affordability as a problem in the Georgetown area, she did sees the standard of style as an issue.

“It does sometimes feel like it’s harder [to find affordable clothing] because there are a lot more ‘upscale’ or more expensive places,” Sahay said. “But I’d say that most of the clothes I’ve bought in Georgetown are from Forever 21 and H&M. It’s definitely nice to have those more affordable stores so close to campus.”

In keeping with the motto “men and women for others,” students themselves have provided ways to navigate the issue of affordability. The GUSA Sustainability Office’s Clothing Swap allows people to swap bags of unwanted clothes and in turn for other students’ items. While the swap does provide an option other than shopping on M Street, this only happens during the once-annual move-out drive, lacking the frequency and availability that busy Georgetown students need.

Another student-driven option at Georgetown is Dressmate, a new program that allows students to rent other students’ clothing for formal or business events. For a minimum of $5 (and a maximum of $15), a person can rent items like a dress or a pantsuit for a three-day period. According to co-founder Christine Yang (SFS ’18), the program may expand into more casual wear in the future. “There’s not really a good way to borrow clothes,” Yang said. “I think the problem is, ‘I have a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear.”

Yang described an issue of overconsumption, citing brands like Forever 21 that produce poorly made clothing that falls apart after only a few wears. She says that she tries to go to a variety of stores when she shops, but said her favorite is Brandy Melville, which isn’t exactly known for well-made clothes. She feels that Dressmate can help change the generational throw-away culture that causes consumers to constantly buy new things. Her co-founder, Jennifer Simons (COL ’18), sees closet minimalism as beneficial in that it both consolidates space and attacks the problem of affordability.

“We pride ourselves on being an affordable service for everyone,” Simons said. “Because everyone should be able to explore their fashion interests, regardless of their budget.”

The Georgetown Scholarship Program (GSP) also provides solutions with opportunities for its graduating seniors, according to GSP Assistant Director Mariana Gonzalez (MSB ’15). The GSP started a program eight years ago to buy Ann Taylor LOFT gift cards for the students looking to buy women’s wear for the professional world. Two years later, word got out to LOFT’s CEO Gary Muto, and he decided to have LOFT itself donate the clothing to the GSP students. He even flies down the company’s stylists to help the women pick out their clothes. For the men of the GSP, Jos. A. Bank gift cards are provided to seniors for the same purpose.

According to Gonzalez, some students are surprised to find out that professional clothing is a necessity at Georgetown. “You definitely don’t go into the college experience knowing right away,” Gonzalez said. “There are some students who try to make one item work as best as they can.”

Many GSP students are first generation college students, and according to Gonzalez, they don’t expect to need suits and formal wear. She has heard students say that they can’t go to their Senior Ball due to the high prices of clothing, and she even skipped out on her own Senior Ball for similar reasons. In a GSP survey of the class of 2015, 36 percent of students said that the most common stressor for graduation was figuring out what they would wear. Gonzalez suggests that students go to the Marshalls in Friendship Heights, for example, which she says has a wider selection than the Georgetown T.J. Maxx.

While the LOFT partnership and the Jos. A. Bank gift cards solve the problem for GSP seniors, and the options of Dressmate, the clothing swap, and shopping outside of the neighborhood help all other students, options are limited for low-income students who are not in the GSP.

“Students can join the GSP, and that is available for those who feel they identify with the community,” Gonzalez said, “But the prices do add up.”

Some students do see a silver lining, though. Hannah Rancap (MSB ’19) has a self-described “preppy” style, but sees a changing fashion culture at Georgetown that is more inclusive of various styles and choices.

“I think that’s what makes the culture so special and refreshing, that people can express themselves through the way that they dress and reveal their attitudes towards fashion,” Rancap said. “Some people take fashion as a genuine interest into which they put a lot of effort, others may just see clothes as a requirement. However in either case, the culture that surrounds fashion at Georgetown allows room for everyone to present themselves as they please without a typical ‘standard’ that students feel obliged to follow.”

Rancap’s optimism definitely has truth to it, but the people that don’t fit the mold still dress in a way that is not affordable or available to everyone. Adidas sneakers and a leather jacket may not be preppy, but they aren’t cheap either. Katsuya said there is one tried and true solution, though.

“This is America,” he said. “So whatever I can’t find in the store I can order online.”

Claire Goldberg
is the Voice's former editoral board chair and halftime leisure editor. She "says a lot of funny things," according to Emma Francois.

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