A Day with the Oxford Fashion Society

Image description: the Oxford Fashion Society committee standing on a set of steps

I like to attend our Oxford Fashion Society committee meetings in an outfit that I feel represents me well, and today is no exception. I’m sitting here waiting to interview everyone in my favourite Selkie jumper, a cream knit skirt, and knit socks with lace bow details for the cold Winter weather. The rest of the committee are just as excellently attired: Caitlin, our President, looks wonderfully preppy in vintage tan trousers, multicoloured brogues, a blue sweater vest and a 60s mac that was once her grandfather’s, while Cece, our Vice, has made both her earrings and cardigan herself, and paired them with a pink pleated midi skirt and a baby pink puffer. Our treasurer Daisy is cosy in a black jumper and balloon-fit jeans, whilst Olivia, our secretary, is sporting a navy blouse and cameo brooch beneath a forest green beret pretty peacoat.

Image description: the Fashion Society Committee in front of the gate at All Souls

Setting up a Society at Oxford is no joke, and our first term has been a very busy one. Already, we’ve had our first photoshoot, social, and speaker (the fabulous Laure Loutala M’Polo, Oxford-based entrepreneur and founder of AFROShow), and this is only the beginning. On the agenda, we have a trip to the Odeon to see the highly anticipated House of Gucci, a collaborative project with the Photography Society, and even “making your own clothes” workshops, to be run by the committee members that are more gifted with a needle than I. Now, however, we’re just here to make the rounds of Oxford’s various thrift shops and vintage markets in search of new additions to our wardrobes. Once finished (and very happy!), we settle down for a lengthier chat about what the newly set-up Oxford Fashion Society means to the committee.

For me, fashion strikes the balance between expression and performance; I can reflect parts of myself that are already there through my clothes, but I can also project a persona. I’m very curious as to what the rest of the committee has to say about the relationship between fashion and identity, so it’s my very first question – what does fashion mean to you as an individual?

Olivia: I think that fashion is so important to identity, whether that’s expressing yourself or who you want to be! For me especially, sewing is my favourite thing to do, so I love being able to completely choose what I want to wear by designing things and choosing fabrics to match my personality.

Daisy: Yeah – I’ve become interested in fashion through learning to make my own clothes over the summer. I love finding beautiful fabrics and working out what I can make with them. I find sewing an amazing way to express creativity in a way an Oxford physics degree doesn’t typically allow.

Cece: I think because of experiences in my childhood of feeling excluded and unseen (it’s not very difficult to fall outside the category of normalcy in rural Denmark), I’ve always turned to fashion as an armour and also as a way to stay true to myself and announce my presence and identity to the world. I remember I was so surprised when I moved away from Denmark and people started to compliment my clothes and my style. That had never happened before. So I guess it started out as a statement of defiance and now it’s just something that brings me joy every day.   

Caitlin: For me, like the rest of you, fashion is all about self-expression. I’ve always been quite shy talking to people so fashion feels like a way to express my personality non-verbally. It’s also a great creative outlet, even for those of us who are tragically bad at sewing.

Image description: Fashion Society going thrifting 

I really relate to Caitlin and Cece’s answers – fashion can be quite an isolating hobby, especially if the way you dress tends to make you stand out. I personally can’t think of anything better than a community of people that will properly commit to a themed event. The others answer in a similar vein when I ask them, why do you think it’s significant to have a society for people who love fashion?

Caitlin: When I got to Oxford, I just couldn’t believe there wasn’t a Fashion Society here already! It’s such an important part of my life and when I first thought about founding it, I envisioned a community of people interested in any and all aspects of fashion, from design to journalism.

But as well as the fashion-obsessed, I hope we can attract and maybe inspire people for whom fashion isn’t so important. There’s sometimes an assumption with fashion that there’s an aesthetic threshold you have to reach before you can be considered “fashionable enough” to be involved in things like this. But, we hope that our society will be a welcoming place to anyone who is intrigued or even just looking for a new hobby.

Olivia: I agree! Both that this space is really missing from the Oxford society scene, and that people often look at fashion as inaccessible. But, they maybe don’t think about the fact that we can all relate to it – we are keen to focus on all aspects of fashion, including inclusivity, sustainability, and creativity, to make this a space for anyone and everyone!

Cece: All of you raise really excellent points. I think something else we have talked about is creating a platform where we can find and share ways in which “passion for fashion” can be made more sustainable and accessible, through talks, sewing and knitting workshops, as well as trips to the local Oxford charity and vintage stores. We all love the creations made by designers of course, but our focus is really not high end, or fast fashion for that matter. Fashion is for everyone, and we want to reflect that in this society.

Daisy: I really agree with the point about promoting sustainable fashion. It’s so easy to order a hoard of clothes from Asos, Boohoo or Shein, so it’s definitely more effort to be more ethical with your choices.

Image description: Committee members trying on their thrifting finds

Sustainability has become a very important issue for me too; I swore off fast fashion in January last year, and while I have broken my promise a couple times since then, the regret that came from those purchases has been enough to stop me from doing so again. Caitlin and I actually first became friends during our thrifting trips in Oxford, and I easily get by with slow fashion brands, apps like Depop, and charity and vintage shops. This discussion leads us pretty easily into my final question for the rest of the committee: what is the place of fashion in the modern world?

Olivia: Similar to you, my New Year’s resolution for 2021 was to avoid shopping at fast-fashion shops! I had been researching the impact of the fashion industry on the environment and the ethics of clothing production and didn’t like what I found, so decided to make a personal change! It has actually been surprisingly easy to find clothes in vintage and second-hand shops, on eBay and buying from slow fashion, small businesses! I think this is made easier by my hobby of dressmaking though, meaning I can transform garments and other textiles I find into items I like and which will fit me – I realise this isn’t an option for everyone.

I also think it’s just amazing, especially in a city like Oxford with so many inspired and inspiring people, to see the ways that people use fashion to express their identity and personality – from the tiniest thing like a pin-badge, to wearing an extravagant ballgown, I think that fashion is a way that we can start conversations and really connect with other people!

Daisy: Yes! Shopping second hand is much easier than I ever imagined. With prices being lower it’s also possible to buy much better-quality items than I would otherwise.

Cece: I still shop at fast fashion stores sometimes, but I am definitely more conscious of it than I have been in the past. The last five years or so I have increasingly been shopping second hand and I also knit and crochet a lot of my clothes myself. I think the fashion industry needs to be completely overturned, especially environmentally and ethically, but fashion itself will always exist and I think it is integral to  self-expression but also to culture and community. 

Caitlin: Same, I try to avoid fast fashion shops, usually going for vintage instead. That said, I do occasionally still buy from fast fashion shops and still often wear the clothes I’d bought from fast fashion shops before deciding to avoid them. I don’t think the answer to making fashion sustainable is to shame anyone who buys or has bought from fast fashion, as size, budget and even just lack of time can make second-hand shopping more difficult. Instead I believe we should be encouraging people to shop sustainably where possible and to wear their fast fashion clothes for as long as they can, even when they’re ‘out of style’ … I think a massive part of maintaining fashion’s place in the modern world is moving away from trends, especially micro-trends. People buying things only because they’re in style and discarding them when they’re out is what drives fast fashion and I’m hoping that as we move towards more sustainable living, people will focus more on dressing for their personal style than trends. 

This conversation has been edited and condensed.

Image credits: Megan Baffoe