Costume and identity

Ivan Sayers reflects on 50 years of campus fashion

As a fashion historian, Ivan Sayers thinks as much about the time and place of a garment’s origins as he does the clothing itself.

Sayer’s life’s work of researching, collecting and curating historical clothing has made him a popular guest lecturer in the Costuming for Stage and Screen Program and a special advisor to our anniversary homage to 50 years of campus fashion.

“Whatever you wear, it’s a costume,” says Sayers. “For the most part, I think people pick their wardrobe very carefully… Students have the added complication, sometimes anyway, that they don’t have any money. It costs a lot of money to get an education nowadays… So they’re not going to have any money because they’re spending it to get to school, to be at school and so on.”

He smilesthis observation is not meant to cue violins. “It’s not how much you paid for something that’s impressive,” says Sayers. “It’s how little you paid. Because one shows how smart you are; the other just shows how rich you are…”

Students on a budget may be wearing their “leftover” clothes from high school; shopping vintage; thrifting; taking part in clothing swaps and rummage sales. All that activity has political and environmental overtones, says Sayers. “They’re not wasting resources; they’re recycling.”

No matter the forces at work, fashion is always highly personal. “Clothing is about costume and identity,” says Sayers. “It’s important to discover the person you are, the person you’re going to grow into. You want to dress to imply things to other people. It’s a code.”

Denim, velour, flannel… the very fabrics of campus fashion brings back memories. Hoodies, lumberjack shirts, pajama pants as daywear… “It’s been casual for a long time,” says Sayers, who wonders what today’s five and six year olds might be wearing as students of the future. “Going to university when they’re 20 years old, 15 years from now. Will everyone get dressed up again because it’s been casual for so long?”

Sayers believes the fashion of the future will be decided by those who wear it. Whatever it may be, it’s not so much the style, but the search that matters. “It’s about being the person you are,” says Ivan, “and trying to illustrate that so you can connect with similar people.”

The 50 Years of Campus Fashion project was supported by Capilano University’s 50th Anniversary Great Ideas Fund.

Written by: Victoria Miles
Photo credit: Christopher Edmonstone