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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Math Geek Mom: Uniformly out of fashion
August 13, 2009 - 9:51pm

In economics, we draw a graph matching the various prices that a good could be sold at with the quantity of that good that people would be willing to buy at each price and call it a “demand curve.” Sloping down, this demand curve can shift for many different reasons. Some of these reasons include changes in the income of the consumers involved, changes in the prices of substitutes or complementary goods, or changes in popularity of the goods themselves. For example, I suspect that the demand curve for horse-drawn carriages has shifted greatly since the advent of the automobile. However, I also thought of the effects of changes in fashion on the demand for goods as I recently shopped for the start of the school year for my daughter.

I purchased uniforms for my daughter in preparation for her entrance into grammar school. I am relieved that she will soon be wearing uniforms, which I trust will put an end to the combinations of print shorts and striped shirts (“but mommy, they are both blue.”) As I looked at the cute “skorts” and golf tees that she will be wearing, I thought back to my own school uniforms of the 1970s. Back then we wore jumpers with cotton blouses, “Peter Pan” collars and ties for both the boys and girls. Obviously things have changed; the other day, my daughter laughed at the comment I made that I thought the boys probably would be wearing ties as part of their uniform. But the truth is I would have no problem with wearing these modern “uniforms”, which probably says more about my lack of fashion sense than it does about the new uniforms.

Ursuline College has excellent programs in fashion design and fashion merchandising, along with several tangential programs, including interior design and the only master’s program in Historic Preservation in the state of Ohio. I often have students from these programs in my classes, and can’t help but feel a little self-conscious at my own wardrobe, which is classical “preppy”. It looks ok on me, and saves me money in buying new clothes, since I only have to replace things when they wear out. I make no pretense of trying to be in style, and I therefore don’t have to even try. However, last semester I discovered that my own disregard to fashion was not necessarily shared by my students.

I learned, from one of my math majors, that a student in one of my classes had been taking pictures of me in class and sending them to friends at another school. She overheard this student talking in the cafeteria about a new picture she had taken of me, which she was e-mailing to her friend. I realized then that apparently the line about “no phones in class” on my syllabus needs to be put in bold. I was more annoyed that my own academic freedom in the classroom had been violated than that they thought I produced laughable photos; what if I had been discussing some recent, unpublished research that was now “out there” for the world to see? However, without catching the student myself, there was little I could do.

A few months ago, my parents and sister went to a dinner for long-term cancer survivors, as part of the “Relay for Life” in their town. Since this was the 25th anniversary of the Relay, the entertainment at the dinner consisted of a fashion show from 1984, the year of the first Relay. They showed people dressed in punk rock styles, dressed like Modanna with underwear worn as clothes, and, finally, people modeling the preppy look. It didn’t take long for my sister to point out that the clothes they were showing could easily have come out of my closet. Now that my daughter will be wearing her uniform, I guess the same can be said of her.

Perhaps, some day, my daughter will join the ranks of the students in our fashion design program and have an impact on fashion in her day. And then maybe, many years from now, there will be a fashion show of styles from the earlier years of the twenty first century, complete with printed shorts coupled with striped shirts.



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