Of course, there are more than just ten fashionable colleges and universities in the U.S. More, in fact, than even an additional two pages of honorable mentions can handle. Nonetheless, the following five schools were debated, defended, reviewed and revisited along with our Top Ten up to the bitter end. What about tiny Bennington ’sfashionably anti-fashion stance? The strong fashion-related academics at Cornell and Indiana? Or the smart chic at Smith and Duke? Honorable, indeed.


Bennington, Vt.

Undergraduate Enrollment: 600

Tuition: $25,900

Students at Bennington are so anti-fashion they virtually reek alternative style. The arts are a major focus at the minuscule, 600-student school where it is difficult to escape anyone’s notice. One student described it as a “blissful, creative womb.” As a result, there is a diverse array of looks on campus, so much so, that many of the students feel their biggest style influences are each other.

The dominant look is vintage as well as recycled and reworked clothes made by students. And just about everyone has dyed their hair some wild color at one point or another. One male student wore black pants, platform shoes, a white shirt and skinny tie with a velvet jacket he found in London’s Camden market. Many women wear skirts or dresses over their pants or funky combinations of their best Salvation Army vintage finds.

Students here have an elevated understanding of style, having interned at magazines such as Teen Vogue, Vanity Fair, Artforum, Paper and Time Out or with designers like Anna Sui. Their awareness of fashion isn’t limited to a simple love for clothing, creativity or art. Several students are more politically aware of the fashion industry—they keep tabs on companies through organizations such as PETA or take note of those that are involved in sweatshop scandals. Still, the pint-sized student body embraces fashion and the freedom to experiment with personal style. Bennington provides them a nurturing environment to explore their identities, however wild they may be.

Being isolated in the remote hills of Vermont forces these students to get creative with their own entertainment. Raucous dress-up theme parties are popular of late, including a Warhol Factory party, Mods vs. rockers, fetish night, a rollerama party and a transvestite night—in fact, John Cameron Mitchell was on campus at the time of the last transvestite party and students begged him to come, but to no avail. In addition to shopping at vintage stores for these parties, many students make their own outfits.Never failing to find occassion to play dress-up, Bennington students sometimes have their own fashion awards in conjunction with shows like the Oscars or the VH1/Vogue awards. As one student put it, “We have Halloween every day here.”


Ithaca, N.Y.

Undergraduate Enrollment: 13,700

Tuition: $28,754 (private colleges); $25,924 (state-assisted colleges; out-of-state residents); $14,624 (state colleges; in-state residents)

While many of the students at Cornell thought theirs is not a fashionable campus, we found the opposite to be true. Not only does Cornell have it's own textile and apparel department, but there’s a student-run design league that puts on a huge fashion show every spring. What's great about this show is that the architecture students get involved, whether by designing the sets or by designing their own pieces to be modeled on the runway. Inspired by avant-garde Asian designers and international magazines, the architecture group generally has the most interesting style on campus. The more adventuresome of the lot opt for deconstructed pieces or wrapped and slashed looks. But the interest in fashion isn't limited to their wardrobe. In fact, one architecture student interned at Visionaire while another interned at Marc Jacobs. And how about the two English majors and one economic major who started their own fashion magazine, called Awkward.

On the other side of the fashion fence are the sorority girls who, as a couple of students put it, are all identifiable by their Burberry scarves, headbands or jackets.

Aside from student enthusiasm for fashion, the career services department at Cornell is also bullish on the fashion biz. They go so far as to put on a fashion show on how to dress for interviews, how to shop for bargains and the dos and don’ts depending on the job one is pursuing. The show has a “Price Is Right” theme and the students guess how much each outfit costs. Graduates are placed in jobs at Donna Karan, Federated, Lord & Taylor, Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap, Bloomingdale’s and Neiman Marcus as well as at magazines such as Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue.


Durham, N.C.

Undergraduate Enrollment: 6,100

Tuition: $27,050

Duke University has long been an institution reknowned for culling a student body that can be described as the best of the North and the South. Such geographical contrasts result in a monied campus, comprised of coeds hailing from the heart of Texas cattle country to the hoary coasts of Maine. And the student fashions reflect the regional diversity. Not only are traditional Southern ensembles prevalent—like boys in bow ties, polo shirts and khaki shorts along with their Lilly Pulitzer–wearing counterparts—but there’s also the Northeastern contingent in black skinny pants and slinky shirts touting designer accessories like Louis Vuitton and Prada around campus.

A stretch from one of the main student buildings is known as “the Runway” or “the Catwalk,” where you can find every fashion style imaginable. And Duke is not a campus full of fashion followers. While there are the requisite Seven jeans, Louis Vuitton Pochettes and Tiffany toggle necklaces, there are also pockets of students, who prefer to stand out.

It was hard to miss Mug Kao at the Kappa Kappa Gamma mixer. Amidst an array of sorority sisters clad in Lilly Pulitzer frocks, she stole the show in a white “wife-beater” with her name stamped on it military style and a low-slung, cut-off cargo mini topped off with Dior sunglasses.

Junior Jordan Pollock is more likely to don a frothy, vintage skirt with motorcycle boots for fraternity parties, rather than the requisite BCBG dress. While Pollock considers herself fashion conscious, she says “it’s partly due to a somewhat hostile uniform fashion environment at Duke, and I am swimming upstream.”

Still, fashion knowledge abounds—even to those who eschew trends or view the subject of fashion as a trivial pursuit. “The style on campus is predominantly casual, but cultivated casual,” says senior Brady Beecham.

It is only fitting then that Duke’s daily paper, The Chronicle, features a significant amount of fashion coverage. The campus TV station runs a Fashion Forecast segment once a week, sort of a combination of “What Not to Wear” and “House of Style.” Next year, Duke will publish a glossy fashion magazine.Not to be forgotten are those who call Duke their alma mater. Among them are such luminaries as Marina Rust, Brooke de Ocampo and David and Dylan Lauren. Enough said.


Bloomington, Ind.

Undergraduate Enrollment: 30,800

Tuition: $5,314 (in state); $15,926 (out of state)

Despite Indiana University’s location in fly-over country, far away from Seventh Avenue, it has quite a few remarkable elements related to fashion, making it a style oasis. Its apparel merchandising program is highly respected in the industry and the students are incredibly savvy, having had quite a bit of workplace experience through internships at a variety of companies including Betsey Johnson, Cotton Inc, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s West, Target, Nordstrom, Federated, Kohl’s and May Company. Many seniors already have jobs waiting for them at these companies. Clearly, Indiana students are well on their way to careers in the fashion field.

In 2000, the university’s Elizabeth Sage Historic Costume Collection staged a Bill Blass retrospective that had record-breaking attendance. In preparation for the show, Blass himself, a fellow Hoosier, met with the design students at Indiana and visited the gallery space. Blass also gifted a $1 million endowment to the university, which the administration is applying to the apparel merchandising program.

What with million-dollar endowments from fashion luminaries and strong retail and business programs, it’s no wonder Indiana students are fashion conscious—in the New York sense. Unlike students at their heartland neighbors like University of Michigan or Notre Dame, Indiana students are keenly aware of labels and their attendant status. For instance, designer bags abound on campus, along with other hip essentials: Juicy Couture sweats in velour and cashmere and jeans from Seven, Paper, Denim & Cloth and Diesel. Fashionistas are also attuned to the trend in the industry of mixing high and low, e.g., Chanel and H&M. Some feel that a sense of fashion one-upmanship exists. One girl says, “When you walk into a bar, the guys might not turn their heads, but every girl in the room will give you a once-over.”

And students are willing to take up the challenge. Senior Emily Elzer says: “I do love how fashion is all about wearing it confidence.”


Northampton, Mass.

Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,700

Tuition: $27,330

When we asked students at Smith College, “Is personal style important?” sophomore K.C. Forcier replied, “Very important! As Mark Twain said, ‘The clothes make the man. Naked people have little influence on society.’”

Forcier’s response typifies Smithies’ witty and thoughtful take on style and dress. Questions of gender and identity—and the substantial role clothing plays therein—are the central dialog at this liberal arts school. Accordingly, students use body and voice vigorously to express their opinions. Witness the senior penning a thesis on clothing-as-body-modification who turned up to a focus group in a T-shirt and tutu.

Nothing is accidental here, making people watching at Smith particularly lively. Even the just-rolled-out-of-bed look showed deliberation: asymmetrical, beribboned ponytails, colorful socks under Birkenstocks or a stack of thrift-store bracelets capping wrinkled pj bottoms. Girly-girls wear Prada knapsacks and mink-lined jean jackets. Boy-meets-girl types shave designs into their hair and dangle wallet chains from jeans decorated in duct tape.

The curriculum allows students to pontificate on style—or grapple with design hands-on—through a landscape architecture, architecture or engineering major. Outside of class, students click knitting needles with dean Margaret Bruzelius—who once ran her own Seventh Avenue business. Others rev sewing machines at meetings of the fashion club PLAID. A do-it-yourself culture thrives, making the new jumbo-size Salvation Army the most anticipated store opening in months. In the meantime, there’s always the “free box”—a bin of discarded, doesn’t fit, I’m-over-it clothing that students add to or take from at whim. Smith students are “very savvy about the forces acting on them,” observes sociology professor Rick Fantasia, who is penning a book on the culture and history of denim. “They think of ‘style’ as something that’s theirs and they’re wary of the fashion industry trying to co-opt it and market it back to them.”

To access this article, click here to subscribe or to log in.

load comments
blog comments powered by Disqus