UC Berkeley News


Cal men in their crushed "plug" hats, which were all the rage on campus around 1900.

Exhibit to depict a century of student fashion on the Berkeley campus
From the plugs of a century ago to the fauxhawks of today, campus couture has tracked larger social influences

| 05 March 2008

Battered hats and dirt-encrusted brown corduroy pants might scream 1990s grunge. But these shabby fashion statements were all the rage at Berkeley in the late 1890s and early 1900s.

"The more disgusting they were, the higher status they held," says William Benemann, curator of a new campus exhibit that chronicles more than 100 years of clothing trends on campus.

"From Plugs to Bling" officially opens in Doe Library's Bernice Layne Brown Gallery this Saturday, March 8, and runs through Aug. 29.

The exhibit, which draws from the University Archives as well as from lesser-known campus collections, includes turn-of-the-century gymnasium attire from the Women's Athletic Association, uniforms from the Cal Marching Band, and T-shirts from the campus radio station, KALX. Many of the approximately 100 objects have never before been placed on display.

"Clothing connects people to the past on a very emotional level," says Benemann, an archivist at the School of Law and a Cal alumnus. "If I had a copy of the Declaration of Independence in one hand and a shirt worn by Thomas Jefferson in the other, it's the shirt that would draw your attention, even though everyone would agree that the document is more important."

Highlights of the 140-year-old campus's clothing fads will be housed in 12 exhibit cases. The gallery also will display four banners of lifesize photos of contemporary students, including one hipster in skinny jeans, a T-shirt, and a fauxhawk hairstyle.

Since the time of "the Apostles," the name given to Berkeley's 12-member first graduating class (of 1873), student fashions have reflected political and social attitudes on the campus. One of the original campus trends was for upperclassmen, and some -women, to wear top hats known as "plugs," which they kicked around and adorned with class numbers, letters, drawings of campus buildings, and an occasional skull and crossbones.

The library exhibition will display six plugs, including one worn by the young Robert Gordon Sproul, who later served as president of the University of California from 1930 to 1958. His gray junior plug sports a beer stein and green-satin ribbons. Other items in the exhibit include the bright-yellow drum major's uniform, affectionately known as "the banana jacket," from the 1959 Rose Bowl, a 1930s women's swimsuit, and an 1898 athletic sweater that belonged to football player and bohemian writer James Hopper.

One exhibit case will include an enlarged copy of a 1913 disciplinary report that a female student received for wearing too much make-up and suggestive clothing. She was asked to remove her makeup and lower her hemline because she was distracting law students as she walked past Boalt Hall.

Muffled and embarrassed

A mannequin in the exhibit will wear archivist Benemann's muffler, denim jacket, and class shirt to chronicle his personal sartorial metamorphosis while a Berkeley undergraduate and graduate student. When Benemann first entered Berkeley as a transfer student in 1969, male students had largely abandoned the formal sport coats and ties of the earlier 1960s for the clothing of the radicalized student movement. But yearning for a bygone collegiate atmosphere that he had experienced only through books and movies, Benemann bought a blue-and-gold muffler, which he said he wore on campus with a "hint of embarrassment."

Later, during the People's Park demonstrations, Benemann adopted the blue-jeans look of most of the Cal student body. But by the time he finished graduate school in 1975, the protest era had calmed considerably, and he felt comfortable sporting a shirt emblazoned with his class year.

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