Avant Garb Mag interviewed Aliya Jessa ’19, who shared about puffy jackets, a formative trip to Tunisia, and breaking free of the “Bowdoin uniform.”
Interview by Allison Hupper.
AH: What’s in your closet?
AJ: Do you want to see it?
AH: Of course! So, what takes up most of the space in your closet?
AJ: I have so many sweaters and jackets, like big, puffy ones. I can’t fit them all in my closet, so there’s some over there and probably some in the common room too. I own a lot of dresses, which don’t take up a lot of space, but I own so many that they’re a big section of my closet. Mostly summer clothes because being from Vancouver, it is really mild there, so before coming here, I really didn’t own any winter clothes. My whole wardrobe was like fall/summer kind of thing.
AH: Are you interested in fashion?
AJ: I don’t think I would really consider myself interested in fashion. I just wear whatever I like. I don’t really think about it that much except to look at other people on campus to think “wow, that’s such a cool outfit. Maybe I’ll copy them.” But since coming to Bowdoin and noticing that I feel like a lot of the style is similar here, it kind of pushed me to want to stand out. In my first year, I was trying to assimilate to the “Bowdoin Style,” and then after that, I thought why would I ever wear clothes that I don’t feel comfortable in?
AH: In an ideal world, what would you wear if you could wear anything?
AJ: There’s so many things I want to wear. On the one hand, I love fun summer dresses and jumpsuits and rompers, but I also love just wearing jeans and a sweater. But in an ideal world, Bowdoin would be fall for most of the year because I hate wearing my huge parka everywhere. I feel like that ruins my outfit. I’m looking for a parka that’s super warm but really cute, and I have not found one yet since I’m also looking for animal friendly/vegan [clothes]. It’s so hard to find something like that. So, in an ideal world, I wouldn’t have to wear my huge ass parka, and I could wear my sweaters or jackets everywhere. It also wouldn’t be icy, so I could wear heels. Away from the elements; I would love that. I’m just starting to wear really weather-inappropriate clothes. There’s a professor I really like here, and one time I walked into class with her. She asked “aren’t you cold in that?” Yes, but honestly it’s worth it. I can’t wear my leggings and bean boots one more time. I’m ready to suffer.
AH: Do you have any items that have meaning behind them?
AJ: I got this jacket from Tunisia. They have markets where they bring in barrels of clothing from America that couldn’t get sold there, so they have things from everything from the 80s to now. It’s brand name too; I found Zara there and L.L. Bean clothes. The prices are cheap. I got this jacket for like $8 at the market. I really like it. It’s so fun and a throwback to skiing. It comes with a compass and a whistle in case I ever get lost. I always wear it when it’s really grim outside. I love to have fun colors when it’s really gross outside. I do wear it in the rain sometimes, but it’s not water proof so I end up suffering. I don’t have a raincoat, so I’m always so wet when it’s raining.
AH: How has your style changed?
AJ: I used to be really concerned––and in some ways I still am––with everything my mom and other people I looked up to always told me. It was like, find things that fit your body and are form fitting, so I was really concerned when I was younger with wearing things that showed off my body in different aspects. But now I’m trying to experiment more with slightly more masculine styles. Skinny jeans were a staple in my closet; now I never wear skinny jeans. It’s mom jeans or straight jeans. I hate skinny jeans. It’s not like that’s a super masculine style, but it’s definitely more masculine than what I was wearing in high school. Or wearing baggy sweaters or long sweaters instead of cropped sweaters and tight sweaters. I’m trying to go to the more masculine route, but it’s taking time because it’s so ingrained in me to think that I need to wear things that don’t make me look short and make my waist look skinny.
AH: You mentioned your jeans. Are they what you always count on?
AJ: Yes. Definitely always count on my jeans, always count on my glasses because they never fail me. I won’t be able to see and I only have one pair, so they are the most reliable item in my closet. I used to only wear contacts ever, and then I discovered that glasses can look really cute. My mother used to say to me “girls with glasses don’t get passes.” So, I would never wear my glasses, but finally I was like, they look cute! Now that’s all I wear. I love a lot of the pieces I got from Value Village, which is kind of Salvation Army in Canada. I have this tank top I got there. I like a lot of the clothes I thrifted. I love when people are like, “did you get that from Urban Outfitters?” And I’m like no, “I did not buy it at Urban Outfitters for $100.” Or these wide leg jeans that I own. People always ask where I got them from. They’re Gap Boys, and I bought them for $10. I cut the bottoms because they were too long. I always go to the Boy’s section for jeans because the men’s section never fit.
AH: Not completely in the strain of WYC, but how was your trip to Tunisia?
AJ: It was so much fun. I like Tunisia a lot because it’s a very liberal north African country. You think of Morocco or Egypt, and you think of kind of conservative. But Tunisia is so liberal, and while I was there, I was really surprised that girls in clubs would wear what I would wear to a club. They were wearing skinny jeans and crop tops or booty shorts and bras. It was a lot more liberal than I expected, so that was to my surprise. The food was so good and I started to truly like Arabic while I was there and now I’m taking it here.
AH: What’s the worst thing in fashion, or a fashion faux pas?
AJ: I feel like nothing’s a fashion faux pas because everything is always changing. I remember in first year someone said to me “why’re you wearing black and navy? You’re not supposed to do that. It looks so gross together.” Ok, who ever told you blavy is not a thing? I think it looks fine and great. So there’s no fashion faux pas. I see people on campus wearing things that are interesting, but then I think “you do you. If you feel good in that, that’s great.”
AH: Where do you get inspiration?
AJ: The women on campus. I’m always copying my outfits from other women I see around, so even though there’s a Bowdoin uniform, I see people experimenting with their own style all the time here, and that really inspires me to do the same. Like I said before, for me it’s really easy to get into a style rut where this is my uniform and this is all I wear. But seeing other risks that women take on campus inspires me to try totally new things.