Image courtesy of: Emilyn Woodworth
21 December 2021
Entering high school often means exploring your interests and figuring out who you want to be and how you want to be perceived. Although the two-week quarantine that turned into more than a year off wasn’t very beneficial for most, an unexpected outcome of the time off was teenagers being able to explore the clothing that allows them to be the most comfortable in their skin. Stepping into the doors of Atholton once again meant showcasing new looks that students had ample time to piece together.
Y2k, alternative, retro, VSCO, grunge: as a public school with no uniform or extensive dress code, there are endless possibilities. The beauty of having hundreds of different types of clothing “aesthetics” is that there is bound to be at least one that appeals to the personality and interests of an individual.
Exploring teen fashion is also a gateway to building communities for people with similar interests. Prior to the hiatus on clubs and extracurriculars, the Crochet and Knitting club, a new club at Atholton, was full of creative and artistic students of all experience levels crafting different wearable items during their first meeting on December 9th.
One of the club’s freshman members, Arshin Akhtarkhavari, described the first meeting as “super fun” and that the club leader, Daniela Okotcha, was “super nice and really sweet.” Having planned to meet every other week, the club had already made plans to crochet individual squares and “slip-stitch” them together to create a blanket that will be donated to a hospital, specifically for cancer patients.
Akhtarkhavari got back into crochet earlier in the year while students were still stuck at home, after learning it from her grandmother but eventually losing interest. “This year, my friend gave me a [crochet] sweater for my birthday so I started again,” she said. “I would do little projects before that, but I started doing it majorly, and I brought it to school, and I would crochet at school because of that sweater.”
Since picking up the hobby again, Akhtarkhavari has enjoyed creating fashion from scratch for people in the school. She, along with the other club members, introduced fashion and accessories to students and faculty by giving them enough creative freedom to request designs that they desire to appeal to their individual interests.
Bringing her projects to school brought much attention to her business. “The Assistant Principal saw it and she was like, ‘oh, you make stuff? I want a hat too,’ and I made one for her,” Akhtarkhavari retold. According to her, Assistant Principal Fairley’s hat is her most prized project since she had never done that type of design before, yet it turned out great.
“Now when I finish something, I start something else as soon as possible. During the break I finished the Assistant Principal’s hat and I started my friend’s hat right away because I had time on my hands. I just do it whenever I can, like in school I would do it spontaneously when I have time,” she explained. Other than making money off of selling her craft, crochet is also the perfect de-stresser.
Now that Akhtarkhavari crochets more often, she has been making more commissions for others than personal projects. She makes mostly hats, gloves, socks, scarves, and blankets, plus small clips and attachments for clothing. She mentioned that learning how to knit has been in the back of her mind, though she is currently focused on crocheting and is planning on making her first sweater. Even though she has not mastered the art of crochet, according to her, “I know the basics, I would say I’m at a pretty medium level. I’m not average, obviously I’m a little bit above average. I’m so cool.”
A similar way fashion is explored by students at Atholton is through the club Becca’s Closet, which showcases more formal fashion to students who may not have much access to it. Sponsored by Krista Bopst and run by students, the club is an extension of the late Rebecca Kirtman’s organization back in 2003 at her High School in Davie, Florida, that collects and distributes prom dresses and accessories to girls who cannot afford them.
As the only school in the county that participates, the club has been running for about 10 years, according to Mrs. Bopst, who took over 6 years ago.
“There was a student several years ago who learned about the organization, thought it was great, and wanted to bring that community service to Atholton,” she explained. “When I took over, it was a family affair: the student who started it, her younger sister was the leader, and she led the group for two years before she graduated.”
Most of the dress donations come from parents, especially those whose daughters have moved on to college, bridesmaids, and local shops at the end of a season. Even Macy’s partnered with the Discovery Channel and gave the school about 200 dresses to give away. According to Mrs. Bopst, Macy’s yearly “Say Yes to the Prom Dress” event also donates one dress to Becca’s Closet for every dress purchased.
Because of COVID-19, the last boutique event for girls to pick out dresses was in 2019 where about 600 dresses were given away. Currently there are about 1,000 dresses packed into the building, although, “the problem is a lot of our dresses are outdated at this point, so once a year the students do a clean out and we have a custodian who sends those dresses to Africa for them to be repurposed,” said Mrs. Bopst.
Since the club was being rebuilt, seamstresses were at the ready and dresses were waiting patiently to be chosen by the right person. Before the cancellation of extracurricular clubs, Atholton was on track to keep Rebecca Kirtman’s service going at the school for years to come.
Looking a bit closer into student fashion at Atholton, many students enjoy styles that are more unique than what’s considered the status quo.
To Emilyn Woodworth, a sophomore at Atholton, fashion is “a way to represent yourself, or a way to express yourself.” As someone who labels her style as “alternative,” she explained that, “on the first day of school I was nervous, but then I realized nobody cares. [Confidence is] one of those things that is not instantaneous, and it’s not something that happens overnight. It’s not like you’re going to wake up and you’re just going to be super confident.”
Being afraid to go out in public wearing an outfit that one enjoys because of fear of judgment has been a battle for many teens all over the world. The societal pressure to “fit in” at school creates a lack of potential “outliers” regarding more diverse or out-of-the-box fashion in public areas.
“I would say that sometimes it’s about faking it, you know?” said Woodworth. “I think it just takes realizing that when you’re at school or in a public place where there are usually people, you walk past strangers all the time but you’re never going to see them again.”
Woodworth claimed to have had her “fair share of looks” in public because of her outgoing style, but the key is to have confidence and stop caring about others’ opinions. She explained that on the first day of the school year she was nervous to show off, but eventually noticed many others with similar styles, which helped her be more comfortable in school. She is a part of the individuals similar to Akhtarkhavari who have used the break from in-person school to grow their style, as she only discovered it around February of this year.
While some students like Woodworth and Becca are very interested in fashion and collecting clothing, a survey shows that out of 130 students at Atholton, 72.3% prioritize comfort over looks or style when picking out an outfit for school. Additionally, 76.2% buy their clothes new, while the other 23.8% tend to thrift or use hand-me-downs.
There is even a student-run Instagram page called Atholton Fashion that posts outfits that students and their friends send in. “The account was created to show the fashion culture at Atholton,” the account owner said anonymously, “and it’s something I do for fun.”
So what does fashion actually mean to Atholton students? For some it may have been a way to express who they are in ways they may not have considered before. For others, it’s an opportunity to provide clothing for their peers so that they can feel confident in themselves. It may even be a way to come together and connect with others over common interests. Truly, every student has vastly different interests and styles highlighting their individuality, while being able to bring communities together. The amount of time endlessly scrolling through Instagram or Pinterest during quarantine gave many teens the chance to recognize how they wanted to express themselves as the new school year inched closer.
As teens at Atholton are endlessly figuring themselves out, confidence in oneself remains the most important idea when it comes to self expression. “So,” started Woodworth, “just don’t be afraid to be yourself.”