Avant Garb Mag interviewed June Lei ‘18 who shared about buying fabric in Shenzhen, unsentimental jewelry, and father’s influence on her style
Hometown: New York, NY
Interview by Kayli Weiss and Holly Hornbeck
Photos by Kayli Weiss
KW: Do you have an item with a special meaning or story?
JL: This skirt that I made, which has a pretty simple pattern. Its fabric is from a mall in Shenzhen in China, which I visited when I was studied abroad in Hong Kong. I bought many other fabrics at that mall because they were inexpensive. I learned how to sew when I was 13, and I make a lot of my clothes. When I shop and I see an expensive item that I like, I try to replicate it myself, which becomes a creative challenge. Making my own clothing also helps me escape from the restrictions of class in fashion. My pieces don’t really look like anything else, so it’s hard to use them to generate class distinctions.
KW: Tell me about your accessories.
JL: I am a big proponent of unsentimental jewelry because I always lose jewelry. In general, I don’t like wearing anything fancy or expensive because I’m afraid that I’ll ruin it. I do have these heart earrings that I got in Japan at a store called WEGO, which has cool and inexpensive accessories. I loved the earrings so much that I got 5 more pairs of them when I was in Hong Kong. They break all the time and fall out, but that’s why I have 5 pairs.
HH: Is fashion accessible to everyone?
JL: Anyone can make active decisions about their appearance, but that requires time and various resources. Some people say that you don’t need to be rich to be fashionable, which I agree with, but you still need to purchase clothing. There’s symbolic value attached to high priced items that cost little to make but there is also status that comes with being thrifty.
HH: Where do you find your style fitting in or sticking out at Bowdoin?
JL: People often comment on what I wear, so I think that my style sticks out. The way I dress feels normal to me, but I wouldn’t say that it’s considered normal by many people here since there are many different philosophies about clothing. I think that Bowdoin students are making active decisions about their appearances for social gain as well. I do that to a degree, but not in the same way.
HH: Have you felt constrained to dress a certain way?
JL: It would be hard for someone to say that they have never felt that way. Good style has been a very important part of my life. I tend to use the word “style” over “fashion” because it’s broader, and also because of the way I grew up. My father, who’s a photographer, taught me and my siblings that dressing yourself meant that you had control over your presentation. In my family, style was as valuable as trustworthiness, frugality or other things that your parents try to teach you.
HH: How is fashion defined in your life?
JL: Fashion plays a large role in my life. I have always dressed a certain way to construct my own personal image. Especially at Bowdoin, fashion allows me to reconfigure others’ perceptions of me and mitigate stereotypes about race and culture. I am Chinese American and I think there are stereotypes of Chinese people being either hyper sexual or completely devoid of sexuality. When I get to make these creative decisions, I have a say in the way people automatically perceive me.
HH: Has your fashion changed over time?
JL: When I came to Bowdoin, I concentrated more on comfort than visual sensibilities, which has been a very experimental process. As my body and preferences changed, and I exposed myself to various forms of art, my self-perception changed. I definitely present myself differently than I did before.
KW: What takes up the most space in your closet?
JL: Probably this fur coat that I used to wear. I’ll wear it occasionally to parties. I really like cheap faux fur coats. The best time to buy them is during the Summer when they cost $10 at Goodwill and nobody wants them. Then, when December rolls around, everybody will asks where you got your coat.