During her first month in the wooded idyll of Wesleyan University, then-freshman Nefatari Cooper found herself fielding an annoying question from fellow students again and again: "Why are you so dressed up?"

Cooper, a New York fashion girl who favored tight jeans and stiletto heels,didn’t fit neatly into the Wesleyan scenery, where a dedication to activism often takes on an anti-fashion aura."I didn’t realize the stigma that came along with wearing name-brand clothes at this school," she says. "God forbid you’re marching for workers’ rights and you’re wearing, like, Donna Karan or something."

University of Notre Dame senior Hope Feher started working her punk look in the eighth grade. She recalls walking out of her freshman dorm room into the sweatshirt-and-chino-clad fighting Irish throng and thinking, "What did I get myself into?"

Both Cooper and Feher faced the same dilemma: As fashion fish out of water, they loved their schools, but not the look. And they found two divergent coping strategies. Feher felt it important to hold onto her punk roots, so the purple hair stayed. Three years later, her friends don’t even blink at her style. "They love it, and I’ve become part of the scenery," she says.

But while punk has found a place beneath the Golden Dome in South Bend, trend-conscious fashion hasn’t been as readily accepted in Middletown, Conn. Accordingly, Cooper, nowa senior, deliberately evolved her aesthetic to incorporate sweats and Timberlands—not the easiest transition for a girl from a high school where every day "was like a fashion show...a lot of Louis Vuitton and Kate Spade," and who happens to be the daughter of veteran fashion journalist Constance White. "I like fashion and getting dressed up," Cooper says. "It’s a way of expressing yourself. I miss that part of going to school."

Feher’s initial concerns were different. "In all honestly, I wasn’t worried about whether I could handle it," she says, "but whether Notre Dame could handle me."

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