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In living color

by Bernice Sun '24

November 10, 2020

Jivonsha Ffrench '24

In the 1940s, Wellesley College students were a force for change on the fashion scene, shocking the nation by wearing “shirt-tails and dungarees.” Characterized by baggy shirts and jeans, the trend was frequently labeled “sloppy” and unladylike outside of the college gates. The real firestorm, though, began in 1944 after LIFE magazine published a photo of two Wellesley students wearing these pieces in the Ville (our name for the town of Wellesley). That photograph led to a thousand words: criticism rained down from Wellesley residents, other colleges, and even magazines like TIME.

The popular disapproval stemmed from ideas of classic femininity. Society scrutinized female appearances, expecting all women to look and behave a certain way. However, Wellesley students combated these societal expectations. Rather than conform, they experimented with their fashion choices and pushed the boundaries of style. The message was clear: they would not blindly follow what society dictated.

Many people took this non-conformity as an example of students at historically women’s colleges lacking feminine appeal––and thus being a threat to manhood. Even though someone wearing shirt-tails and dungarees today would no longer cause an uproar, widespread criticism towards anything fashion-forward or outside of the norm remains.

Today, makeup has replaced “shirt-tails and dungarees” as a fashion lightning rod. So-called “unconventional” and “weird” make-up with non-neutral colors, sequins, and pigments that deviates from the everyday “no-makeup makeup” attracts the same

negative responses from the general public,


Laura Umana '24 and Zora Levette '24

akin to the reaction that shirt-tails and dungarees received in the 1940s. Today, people have a preconceived notion of “beautiful” makeup which focuses on enhancing natural beauty and hiding flaws. As a result, attention-grabbing styles are discouraged or reserved for art projects. However, like their 1940s predecessors, Wellesley students today continue to push the boundaries of mainstream ideals of personal style. Their purpose is to express themselves fully, without any pressure to conform to what society finds “perfect.” 

Jelen Pittman '24 and Jivonsha Ffrench '24

The message was clear: they would not

blindly follow what society dictated.


Jelen Pittman '24 

In these photos of Jivonsha, Jelen, Zora, and Laura, the juxtaposition of outré makeup with a modern reinterpretation of shirt-tails and dungarees highlights the public indignation they both inspired. Makeup designer Jivonsha Ffrench ’24 said, “College girls were being college girls and finding themselves but everyone else thought they had a right to tell them how to dress, the simple nature of the shirt tails and dungarees was subtle but very powerful.”


Laura Umana '24 and Zora Levette '24

“Similarly,” she continued, “I wanted makeup that was more than the norm and very much against Wellesley Town’s sweet subtle expectations of Wellesley College girls.” Thus, she chose bright colors and pearl beads for makeup looks that reflect the confidence and liberation that Wellesley students have always embodied.

As for the modern recreation of shirt-tails and dungarees, stylist Haysie Chung ’24 explained, “The choice to mimic the outfits was to show that though things are different, they’re really the same even after 80 years. Wellesley Girls are still willing to follow their own ideas even if they are not ideal.” Though fashion and makeup have nominally grown more accepting of different points of view, in reality, public opinion still places judgment on “unusual” and attention-grabbing looks.

To test this theory, the team took photos in the same location where the 1940s students scandalized the public: the Ville. When Ffrench wore her makeup look on campus, she noticed that students “did stare but it was more of a ‘That’s so cool’ stare.” People who stared in the ville, though, “had a ‘What’s that on your face’ vibe. While everyone kept it classy and no one was disrespectful, the energy shift was definitely noticeable.”

At Wellesley College, self-expression is encouraged, empowering and inspiring both the students who proudly declare their creativity through fashion and makeup and those who see the bold results of that experimentation. Ffrench reflected, “Creative makeup makes me feel fun and expressive. I enjoy working with a plethora of colors to make cohesive and edgy makeup looks. It makes me feel happy and gives strong baddie energy.”

The demographic at Wellesley College has molded an accepting environment. A diverse collection of backgrounds and cultures opens students’ minds to the unfamiliar. Although I have only been a part of the Wellesley College community for a short time, it is already clear to me how open and accepting it is. The freedom that each individual feels to express themselves is incomparable.


Zora Levette '24 and Laura Umana '24

Image taken from LIFE Magazine

Whether we choose to wear shirt-tails and dungarees or unconventional makeup, it is comforting to have a place where we can truly be ourselves. Not every place can be a haven like Wellesley College, but this environment allows us to develop a confident attitude in every aspect of our lives. We can approach life with the same boldness that Wellesley students did in the 1940s, holding on to their rights to wear shirt-tails and dungarees.



Directed by Stella Ho ’22 and Kaia Carioli ’22

Photographed by Ana Rubin ’24

Styled by Haysie Chung ’24 and Jivonsha Ffrench ’24

Makeup designed by Jivonsha Ffrench

Layout by Yuji Chan ’22

Modelled by Jivonsha Ffrench, Zora Levette ’24, Jelen Pittman ’24, and Laura Umana ’24

Special thanks to Tiffany Chu ’22 and Kaylee Liu ’24

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