On Teaching Fashion: What Makes a Fashion Student

3.21.2007 by bitsandbobbins.

What are fashion students like today?  What does it take to be a successful fashion student?  Who are the future fashion professionals of the world?  The answers to these questions are our topic for my post for this week.


First off, let’s talk appearance.  We are fashionistas, after all.  Here is a phenomenon you may have noticed yourself:  my most well-put-together students tend to be those who earn the highest grades in my classes.  Not because I grade based on creativity in attire, but because the quality of their coursework genuinely merits the high marks they receive.  I have simply come to notice that my more academically successful students tend to have a more refined, mature, and polished appearance than my students who are closer to the class average.  This is not to say that my students who appear to take less care in their appearance do less well academically, but to me it is no mystery why someone who is engaged and doing well in a fashion course might also have an interest in managing the details of their personal appearance with a mature visual vocabulary.  Has anyone else found this to be the case in their own experiences?

100 Strangers Project - #9 by Messy!

Some of the traits and study habits that I notice in my top students are a natural interest in the fashion industry.  You would think this would go without saying, but it doesn’t.  When I have students who arrive for their first semester of college, for their first college-level fashion course, and they already have favorite fashion magazines, web sites, and  blogs and Project Runway is not their sole source of fashion industry information, I know I have some natural fashionistas on my hands.  Students arriving with that natural interest, an insatiable curiosity and a love of learning, those are all good signs.  Those who do not arrive in that state can pick up the excitement from the others, and believe me, the top students do possess the ability to gain a following within their class, either because of their appearance, their high grads, or their personalities.

Speaking of personalities, I notice that my more successful students already have intact an understanding that teamwork is an essential part of success in the industry, in school, and life in general.  They operate well in group projects and team assignments, and show up fully aware of this from Day One.  While reality TV may have its prima donnas, copping an attitude in the real fashion workplace does not get you anywhere, and this is not news to my classroom fashionistas.  You have seen me quote Tina Seelig before, and her wisdom bears repeating:

When you are a team, the key is making everybody else successful. The more you make other people around you successful, the more it comes back to you, many many many fold.

In terms of future fashion professionals, I can tell you about my top students of the past few years.  Those that score high are the ones willing to work all day and all night on a project, and go above and beyond the assignment guidelines, and all not because they are trying to suck up to the teacher, but because they have a personal commitment to excellence and high standards of quality in their work.  They want to know everything, every designer, every trend, every style, and they work hard to learn everything they can, not because they have to, but because they can’t get enough.  It’s a passion for fashion, what can I tell you?

Fashion designer Daniela Corte works in her Newbury Street studio.
To those of you working in industry, what do you see as some of the common traits of the successful fashionista?  What qualities do you look for in an intern or new graduate?  Let me know if my observations above agree with your own experiences. 

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  • Lainie November 20, 2009 08.22 am

    I love this blog, and I like this post very much. But I would be truly happy to never see the word “fashionista” again. It’s overused, it’s meaningless, and it seems disrespectful to the Sandinistas, from whence it came, who were freedom seekers risking their lives, not professional shoppers, as “fashionistas” are depicted in the advertising world. This blog is so (appropriately) sensitive to political implications of dress and language and the codes we create and wear — I hate to see you resort to the word-du-jour of the marketers who have no idea what it means or how to come up with another way to talk about people who are interested in fashion.

  • Petra November 20, 2009 09.00 am

    Yes, please-
    Let us bury that word.
    It makes me cringe every time anyone uses it. Even my colleagues, sometimes use it. Although I know it is said with the best of intentions, I cannot help but be a bit insulted…. like it dummies down our field.

  • Petra November 20, 2009 09.01 am

    Fantastic post though! btw.

  • Kbferguson November 22, 2009 01.08 pm

    Yes, I have noticed that the students who make fashion part of their lives, which includes fashion magazines, blogs, volunteering with the university fashion club, and choosing interesting outfits are the A students at my school. And it’s not just about the established fashion labels. I see these top students with inexpensive thrift store purchases that they have altered and mixed with other clothing. They are so creative that they choose to experiment with clothing outside of the classroom. I think that is also what helps them become A students. They are constantly challenging themselves so when it’s time to submit a project they are more evolved than a student who is not fully immersed in fashion.

  • Katelyn December 02, 2009 11.35 am

    I agree with the post. Students have to be truly passionate about fashion and interested in a deeper way than simply surface level glam and lights. Those students who ask questions, work well as a team and are constantly challenging themselves have the most success. It is not enough to be “too cool” for class discussions and sharing of thought provoking ideas. I wish more undergraduate students would participate in discussion in class and share. It should not be hard to get students to share work-don’t be shy. I think this is something missed among undergrads that grows with graduate work. Be proud of your work and your creativity. If a student does not want to share it seems as if they feel their efforts to complete work fell short–why else would they be hesitant to share?


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