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Trends 101: Intro to Duke Style

My purple L.L. Bean backpack was sitting next to me when I got my Duke acceptance letter. It was battered, roomy, indestructable and covered with silver Beatles lyrics, left over from a 10th grade phase. My monogramed initials were highlighted in handpainted glitter. I tore open the envelope and watched it fall, past my butterfly charm necklace, crimson cardigan set, deep indigo boot-cuts and scarlet Vans sneakers. My eyes darted, veiled by bare lids and black mascara. My lips were covered in Clinique almost-lipstick, and they mouthed the words on the page. "Congratulations," they spelled, "You have been accepted into the Class of 2003." I smiled. I squealed. And then I cursed. "Oh shit," I whispered. "I have to get a Kate Spade."

Multiple graduation presents and three handbags later, I was on my way to the Gothic Wonderland. Pretty soon, those handbags were filled up with black pants (stretch, boot-cut, and leather), slitted skirts and Steve Maddens. I didn't really like black pants, or skanky skirts. I didn't dig the way that Steve Maddens hugged my feet, and made them clunky. But this was college now, and I felt the need to dress like "those other college girls." I left the scarlet Vans at home, and sometimes at night, I wore "the bitch dress," a Chapel Hill purchase that looked suspiciously like black see-through underwear. With my nylon messenger bag bouncing on my hip, I would walk down the path and feel very grown up, very stylish and very Duke. And I guess I was, since I was trying to look just like everybody else.

Eventually, I settled into my own skin again. I ditched the Steve Maddens for some Reefs, bought a silk-screened Monte Carlo tote bag and invested in some quality make-up remover. I started wearing the slitted skirts to class (with trashy tee shirts and a deep denim jacket), and found pink Mavi cords that were way better for me than the bitch pants of first semester. As for the bitch dress, I still wear it on occasion, but usually with a cable-knit sweater and kitten heels. My favorite frat-party outfit is now hip-slung jeans and a tank top. I think I could even survive without the Kate Spade, and certainly without it's successor, the Herve Chapelier tote cloned all over campus.

Dressing for yourself is a good feeling. It makes you feel excited, enjoyed and freer to do your own thing. Achieving this can be difficult when you first hit the Gothic Wonderland. Traversing Duke has even been compared to walking through a J. Crew catalogue. Everyone seems good-looking, fun-loving and permanent-pressed. Duke style, therefore, is usually regarded as preppy, sophisticated and sleek.

We're all Brooks Brothers and Sisters around here, or at least, that's what it looks like at first. Riding the bus from East to West sometimes feels like a Gap Ad, and some friends of mine still call Alpine Bagels "the runway." There are enough Tiffany charm bracelets on West Campus to fill a silver mine, and Fendi has enough Blue Devil fans to open his own Durham boutique. In our posh little campus, it's easy to lose track of your budget, your sense of style or even your sanity. That's why we're here. So take a deep breathe, sit back and prepare for your stay in the Gothic Wonderland. We've got suggestions on how to dress for success.

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