While the school-from-home setup was filled with sweatpants and loungewear, this year’s seniors emerged from quarantine with a new sense of style that embodied being true to themselves.
Whether it came from embracing sexuality, excitement about finally leaving the house again, or the influence of social media platforms like TikTok, some GW seniors went through a style evolution from 2019 to 2023. Graduating seniors said while the world came to a halt in 2020 and the fashion trends began to change, they spent their extra alone time rediscovering themselves and the clothes that represent them.
Jenna Boatman, a graduating senior majoring in English and creative writing, arrived at our interview oozing in hip style. They layered a flower-patterned patchwork vest over a sage green tank top that they paired with a white lace skirt, tights, and an oversized black leather jacket. They completed the look with a pair of platform Doc Martens.
Boatman adorned their fit with butterfly earrings, golden necklaces, and lockets that were only outshined by their hair and makeup. Neon pink and orange hair in the front and yellow and green stripes in the back met spunky winged eyeliner and sparkly eyeshadow, truly completing the look.
Boatman said their outfit marked a stark contrast to what they described as their freshman year style — “basic,” having a closet filled with skinny jeans, crop tops, and chunky white Filas. It wasn’t until the pandemic that Boatman’s style began to evolve.
“2020 was such a formative year for me and coming more into my queer identity,” Boatman said.
Joining the queer community helped Boatman experiment with new styles. They tried hair colors ranging from brown pieces in the front to all blue, got more into jewelry, and began thrifting and shopping at vintage stores. They found inspiration on Pinterest and began to put more effort into their day-to-day looks in order to keep a sense of normalcy by “getting ready” for classes even though they were on Zoom during the pandemic.
They eventually landed on the subfashion genre “whimsigoth,” clothing that combines darker color palates with romantic styles — like vampire meets fairy princess — as an embodiment of their style, which they found inspiration from on TikTok.
“It’s taking darker elements but making them a little bit more girly,” Boatman said.
When reflecting on their style evolution, Boatman notes that the lack of personal style they displayed freshman year was less to do with understanding fashion trends than their understanding of themselves. Once Boatman embraced their queer identity, they were able to express their truest self through their style, following queer styles.
“I feel like part of the reason that I had no grasp on the style then is because I barely had a grasp on myself,” Boatman said.
Graduating senior and international affairs and creative writing major Sasha Agarwal experienced a similar connection between style and sexuality. They described their freshman-year fashion choices as prioritizing comfortable clothes, mainly sweatpants and sweatshirts.
They said going through personal changes regarding their gender and sexuality helped transform their style going into junior year, when GW returned to in-person operations. Agarwal cut their hair short, swapped out glasses for contacts and began to take an interest in thrifting and jewelry.
“I think a lot of people had the experience that over the pandemic, it was a time where a lot of people were able to think about their sexuality and things like that,” Agarwal said.
Agarwal said this evolution of their style was initially sparked by a desire to fit in with the queer community but now they draw confidence from this shift rather than the other way around. They now opt for minimalist gold jewelry, neutral colors, and vintage finds from markets in their hometown of Kansas City.
“The things that I wear now and my fashion and everything really reflect the changes I’ve made as a person, it makes me feel more comfortable with expressing myself as a queer person and just like the kind of personality I have in general,” Agarwal said.
Marisol Cabrera, a senior majoring in journalism and mass communication, also experienced style evolution post-COVID after she rid her closet of infrequently worn pieces and focused on developing a minimalist wardrobe filled with mock neck tops for layering and versatile straight-legged jeans. During freshman year, Cabrera said she fell victim to fast-fashion trends, shopping frequently at H&M, and it wasn’t until after the pandemic that she began to develop a sense of personal style that was also more sustainable.
Homegrown in Naperville, Illinois, Cabrera said she incorporates her midwestern roots into her style and frequently draws inspiration from social media platforms like TikTok. She likes to describe her style as “Scandinavian but make it midwestern,” a chic combination of midwestern patterns and Scandinavian neutral, minimalist pieces.
“It’s just kind of fun to play into your hometown roots and stuff like that, just to make your style a little bit more personal,” Cabrera said.
Cabrera tries to shop secondhand, ideally 80 percent thrifted items and 20 percent new items. She said she loves to use the online platform Thredup for vintage finds and affordable pieces like a wool Aritzia sweater, which she can buy for a fraction of its original cost.
“I would say I’m a lot more confident in my style now than I’ve been ever before,” Cabrera said. “It’s also just fun to match outfits to different occasions.”
Graduating senior and international affairs and geographical information systems major Cameron Cayer said the pandemic was also a time when he learned to stop caring what others thought about his outfits. Prior to the pandemic, he described his style as colorfully basic, donning many button-ups. But while quarantining during his sophomore year, he said he began to experiment with clothing from the women’s section for more stylistic freedom, choosing blouses, sweaters, and tank tops.
“So that’s when I started buying a lot of women’s clothes because I go thrifting, and I would end up liking the women’s section better,” Cayer said.
During his junior year, Cayer said he treated fashion as more of an art form, wearing intricate and colorful pieces of clothing as he gained confidence in his style. The change marks his personal growth from wanting to be seen and noticed to just dressing for himself.
“I’m happy that I’m leaving senior year with my own style, with my own concepts about fashion but not necessarily wearing things in order to please others,” Cayer said.
This article appeared in the May 15, 2023 issue of the Hatchet.