May Day, in pagan Europe, was a day of revelry heralding the coming of summer. In the late 19th century, the date was appropriated as International Workers’ Day. And for millions of high school seniors around the country, today marks a milestone — this is the day by which they must commit to the college where they will spend the next four years, the place in which they will come into full adulthood while discovering and becoming part of a world beyond the confines of their upbringing. For those already in college, the coming of May signals the approaching end of the academic year. Exams loom, and for seniors, graduation, after which most have to face the exciting yet imposing lure of the Real World.

Either way, the collegiate population is a fascinating and essential one for this industry. Already boasting considerable discretionary dollars, the demographic comprises the premier consumers of the near future. But this generation will shape that future culturally, economically and politically with more than its consumer clout. From its ranks will come a new wave of industry leaders, both creative and business-oriented. From which institutions will they hail? Are they engaged in matters of fashion and the greater world of design? Are they interested in related industry careers? Are their schools preparing them for such roles? Are they preparing themselves? Most importantly, do they think fashion matters?

WWD dispatched reporters to more than 60 colleges and universities around the country to research these questions, and to determine America’s Most Fashionable Colleges. Our reporters conducted hundreds of interviews with students, faculty and administrators. More than 1,300 game students sat for a quiz to determine their fashion/design knowledge, with questions that ranged from "Which company has a polo player for its logo?" to one that asked to match architects—Gehry, Koolhaas, Wright, Libeskind—with specific projects. They also completed an in-depth survey aimed at exploring their current consumer mind-set and buying preferences. All of this factored into the selection of America’s Most Fashionable Colleges.

But fashion, of course, is more art than science. And in a way, a sociology class in itself. It takes all kinds of people working together—and sometimes against each other—to make it work. Fashion needs consumers and ceos, designers and distributors, power brokers and renegades. Which is why in determining our Top 10 schools, our methodology was, shall we say, loose. New York University proved to be in a class by itself. As indicated by their quiz scores, its students know fashion; they work the advantages of NYU’s location, seeking out internships and immersing themselves in the arts; they have great and diverse style. At our Number-Two school, Howard University, many students are already preparing for careers in the fashion industry. Ole Miss girls may not articulate their career interests all that frequently, or care much about just who designs Dior, but holy magnolia, do they love to dress up—seven home football games, seven new dresses! And it’s very likely that the future ceo of Wal-Mart will hail from the University of Arkansas, thus one day influencing what much of America wears. Of course, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and our list features two bastions of anti-fashion, Wesleyan University and SUNY Purchase.The final selection process was both excruciating and vocal, and many reporters left editorial meetings with the feeling that their schools were robbed. So much so, that against earlier inclinations, we included our Honorable Mention List. And lest anyone wonder about the hyper fashion-savvy at Parsons, FIT, Cal Arts and other fashion and art schools—we look at them in a separate, unranked feature.

Lists, of course, are fun, but imperfect. And certainly one divined from so unscientific a process leaves itself wide open to debate and even ridicule. So fire away, in that good old fashion way: Who’s the best designer in the world? The best ceo? Retailer? Says who?

More important than assigning a definitive Number One (college football didn’t even have that until recently), we hope this issue provides our readers with a provocative window into the mind-set of this most intriguing population, its preferences, its gripes, its intelligence, its creativity. This new generation of young adults has all of the above in abundance. And—we should all be happy to note—as far as they’re concerned, fashion matters. Almost without fail, whether respondents hail from logo-loving sororities or the all-capitalists-must-die camp, they acknowledge the importance of appearance. When asked, "Do you consider personal style important?" one American University student wrote, "It’s an art, an expression, an extension of your personality. It can be a message, a poem, an attitude — without taking personal style to superficial borders and becoming a victim of it. It’s about authenticity." A U Penn student wrote, "Extremely. It speaks so loudly without making a sound." And asked, "Do you consider yourself fashion conscious?" a Cornell student approached the organic essence of the issue: "Yeah. I wear clothes."

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