150 years of Cal student fashion reflect attitudes, defy labels

You’d be hard-pressed to find Chanel, Brooks Brothers or Kanye West’s Yeezy line on Sproul Plaza or other UC Berkeley campus runways.

Since the university’s 1868 founding, Cal students have tended to favor comfort and creativity over designer labels and Ivy League uniforms.

UC Berkeley video by Yasmin Anwar and Tonya Becerra

That’s not to say they don’t have a sense of style. Quite the contrary.

Take the early 1870s when the University of California’s inaugural female class spurned ultra-tight corsets, frills and rear-enhancing bustles in favor of a more serious look that included long narrow skirts, high-neck blouses and long hair pinned up and tucked into straw boaters or battered top hats known as “plugs.”

Over the following decades, Cal coeds’ hemlines and necklines went up and down and menswear became increasingly less formal, but each sartorial era maintained a sense of whimsy.

As UC Berkeley marks its 150th anniversary at a Charter Day celebration at Haas Pavilion and Spieker Plaza this Friday, March 23, campus culture and history can be tracked through changing student fashion styles documented in Blue and Gold yearbooks, among other archival collections, a sampling of which can be seen in the video above.

Berkeley Law archivist William Benemann, a UC Berkeley alumnus and curator of the 2008 exhibit “From Plugs to Bling: A Century of Cal Student Fashion” likes to point out that “clothing connects people to the past on a very emotional level.”

From late Victorian attire to the varsity jackets and poodle skirts of the 1950s to today’s shredded skinny jeans, crop tops and rainbow-colored hairdos, UC Berkeley students have added their own sartorial twists to the fashions of the day to reflect changing cultural and political attitudes.


Exhibit to track a century of Cal student fashion from plugs to bling
A fashion safari to Sproul Plaza
Flip-flops, floods and fur – fake, of course
Green is the new blue, and other elements of Cal style 2004
Berkeley students have style – you just have to look closely