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Spring 2019

Wildcat Style — No Filter

We scouted the campus for fashionistas. Here are their Insta photos and style stories. By Marla Paul

Saul OsorioImage: Courtesy of Saul Osorio

Stylish students fashion their unique looks with everything from thrift store treasures to mom and dad hand-me-downs.  For some, getting dressed is like painting a picture. They layer fishnets under jeans, don boldly patterned pants and aren’t afraid of color. They adorn a coat lapel with colorful pins, create a necklace from a vintage Kodachrome slide or skillfully apply false eyelashes.  Last fall we scouted the campus for people who wowed us. Here are their Insta photos and style stories.


“Whenever I meet someone new, they tell me I look like I have it all put together, even though I don’t,” admits Saul Osorio. “But I think that’s what I’m trying to do. I dress to convey confidence.”

Mission accomplished!

Osorio, a sophomore learning and organizational change and global health studies major, has a classy and quirky look curated with his sharp eye for bargains and a strong sense of his personal style. “I shop around and go to every store,” heading straight to the clearance and sale section, he says. “I go for the cheapest but nicest clothes I can find. I get a lot at Goodwill, too.”

His formula for composing an outfit: long-sleeve button-downs “no matter how hot it is,” pins for pops of color, layering textures, fun pants, bright colors and dress shoes. “I hardly ever wear gym shoes,” Osorio says. His only splurge: $300 transitional glasses that darken and lighten according to the light.

For a long time, Osorio wanted to be a doctor, but his chemistry class made him rethink that plan. Now he wants to go into health care administration. He was raised in Mexico until age 8, when his family moved to Genoa, Ill., which he jokingly refers to as “Ge-nowhere.”

With his ambition and style, Osorio is definitely heading somewhere.

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“I’m over city life.” — Serena Lewin

This past August, when Serena Lewin harvested kale, broccoli and leeks on a sustainable farm in Birkerod, Denmark, she realized she wanted to return to Europe after graduation — to eventually tend crops on her own small-scale farm.

“I want to have a full-cycle farm that has its own market that can provide to the whole community,” says Lewin, a sophomore who plans to major in environmental science. “If you can grow food in a sustainable way, you can reduce a lot of environmental degradation.” Farming practices in Denmark and Europe, she says, “are light years ahead of ours.”

On Northwestern soil, she’s the social media maven for Wild Roots, touting the student-run group that cultivates a sustainable garden behind Norris University Center.

Sustainability is a common thread, quite literally, in Lewin’s life. “I never buy anything new,” says the Los Angeles native. “I refuse to buy anything from a commercial store. I can have a lot more clothes for less money. And I know that when I’m walking around, no one is going to have the exact thing that I have, and I pride myself on that.”

She resells all of her clothes via the Depop app. “I never keep anything for too long. I buy it, post it and wear it until it sells,” she says.

Lewin scored her Dr. Martens boots from the Rose Bowl flea market in Pasadena. Her plaid pants are from a vintage store in Amsterdam, purchased with a check from British Airways after they lost her luggage. She found the multicolored necklace at a flea market in Sicily; the chain necklace was Lewin’s mom’s when she was growing up.

Eventually, though, she may be out of range of brick-and-mortar thrift stores. “I’m over city life and want to be somewhere very remote,” Lewin says. “I just want to be in nature.”

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“My style is very eclectic.” — Kristyna GoČová

Kristyna Gočová dresses like someone who is going places. A second-year master of music student in voice and opera, she hopes that will be onstage at an opera house — maybe even to sing in Carmen or Werther, two of her favorites. There she’ll be adorned in elaborate costumes.

Offstage, she says, “My style is very eclectic but fun and fashionable. I do what I want. Sometimes it’s on trend, sometimes not, and I’m OK with that. I do a lot of pattern mixing. If you see me any day of the week, I’m probably mixing a pattern. Stripes and polka dots all the way.” Her tights for $2 are from DSW, shoes are Steve Madden, and her coat is from Francesca’s. “The rest I don’t know because I’ve had it since middle school!”

She’s amassing her own personal vintage collection. As far as shopping, Gocová, who is from Prague, frequents Anthropologie and Kate Spade, “but I love a good Marshall’s or T.J. Maxx deal.”

We asked her to sing a bit of opera for us, but she begged off because her voice was hoarse. We’ll have to wait to buy tickets and see her in Carmen.

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“I love wearing my parents’ clothes from a long time ago.” — Kristen Gerdts

Kristen Gerdts is never far from her parents, even though they live in Miami. That’s because she often wears something from their ’80s and ’90s wardrobes.

“I love wearing my parents’ clothes from such a long time ago,” says Gerdts, a sophomore journalism major. “It makes me feel very connected to them and reminds me that they are always with me.”

Second-year Northwestern University journalism major Kristen Gerdts explains her fashion philosophy and roots.

She unearthed a lot of the clothes in the back of dusty closets when her family was packing up her childhood home in Colombia.

“I got a huge, bomber-like jean jacket from my dad, which my mother wasn’t too happy about because apparently my dad would wear this all the time, and she thought he had gotten rid of it.

“I wear this jacket constantly. I can style it with anything, honestly, even overalls.”

A recent favorite find are her mother’s Guess jeans, which they discovered over the summer. “When I was sifting through my parents’ old photos for their 25th anniversary, I came across several pictures of her wearing the same jeans. She stopped wearing them because she accidentally stained them with bleach. There are now three small white dots on the front. I think they add character.

“It astonished my parents to know that most of their old clothes are back in fashion again,” Gerdts adds. “These clothes are nice reminders that my parents had these rich lives before me. I know that they have their own stories with each of these pieces, and I love knowing that I am creating my own stories with the same exact pieces.”

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“I like to dress a bit more formally.” — Jay Towns

In a campus landscape of T-shirts and jeans, Jay Towns stands out in his cream-colored blazer and floral button-down shirt. “I like to dress a bit more formally for classes, because I feel like it engages my mind better,” says Towns, a freshman theater major. “If I look like I’m supposed to be studying, I’ll be more inclined to focus in class. Formal clothes aren’t usually the most comfortable, so I can’t lean back or hunch over. I have to pay attention.”

Formal doesn’t mean pricey, though. He snagged his jacket from Goodwill for $3!

Thrifting is a recent discovery, and he’s expanded his wardrobe. “My closet has grown immensely, since I’ve been able to get more for my money.” He’s been so successful that he had to send bags of clothes back to Schaumburg, Ill., with his parents.

Jay Towns sings 'Fly Me to the Moon'

What’s left he assembles with care. Pin rolling his pant cuffs so they fit more snugly, he demonstrated how he pinches the inside seam before rolling them up. (We’ll try that!) He liked the H&M khaki pants with the cream blazer and chose the print shirt “because the red matches the ring around the white Converse sneakers.”

Towns was accepted into the musical theater program. He already played his dream role — Shrek — during high school for a local theater company. Now he’d like to play Aladdin or the beast in Beauty and the Beast. We can confirm his excellent pipes. When we asked him to sing for us, he belted out a few impressive bars of “Fly Me to the Moon.”


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“I like to wear something a little hard, like the leather jacket, with something soft and silky, like the dress.”— Liliia Voitenko

When you are an international first-year Kellogg School of Management MBA student with your toddler in tow and a spouse in Moscow, you’d better have a plan.

Luckily, Liliia Voitenko used to be a logistics manager. She flew in her mom for a month to care for her 3-year-old daughter, Eva, then brought in her mother-in-law and next her stepmother. Eventually she’ll hire a nanny, but family has kept her afloat this fall.

Her husband, a consultant, will transfer to Dallas and visit on the weekends. “He travels so much, it doesn’t matter where he is,” she says.

Classes and homework coupled with parenting haven’t cramped her sartorial style, though. We love her emerald green Armani dress paired with the edgy Cole Haan black leather jacket. She bought the dress in Miami when she was nine months pregnant because it allowed for her expanding waistline. The jacket she snagged on sale during Black Friday. The stunning Freywille enamel ring was a splurge.

 “I like to wear something a little hard, like the leather jacket, with something soft and silky, like the dress,” says Voitenko. “It’s special because of the contrast.”

Voitenko, who is from Kiev, Ukraine, has lived in Moscow, Paris and Philadelphia, and says Evanston, by contrast, is a little small. “But I love the community and the feeling we have with the students, because everyone is on campus. We can enjoy the social connections through our education.”

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“Everyone has their own style, and my style just happens to be more masculine.” — Sam Liu

Sam Liu heads straight for the men’s department when shopping. “I feel like it’s powerful to be able to wear men’s clothing as a woman,” says the first-year student in the School of Communication.

“I grew up around boys. I hung out with boys. I played basketball, I skateboarded and did all the stereotypical boy things,” says Liu, a first-year communications studies major. “And I grew up dressing like a boy. I just feel more comfortable in that. I don’t like frilly or glittery or anything that’s traditionally more feminine. Everyone has their own style, and my style just happens to be more masculine.”

She likes to tuck in her oversize shirts and cinch her pants with a belt “for a cleaner look.” She also prefers white crew socks. “My style is more reminiscent of the ’90s,” Liu says.

Her entire outfit except for her pants is thrifted. Sam is particularly stoked about her Star Wars motif Converse sneakers, which normally sell for about $70, but she snagged for $10. “They were a steal,” she says, smiling. Her navy blue sweatshirt is from Family Thrift on Milwaukee Avenue, and her red windbreaker was a mere $2 at a secondhand shop in her hometown of Orlando.

Aside from shopping scores, she said her time at Northwestern “has been an incredible experience so far. The community is very inclusive. People are friendly and will help you if you need it. I love it here.”

She’s also enjoyed being part of the Rainbow Alliance and its events with other LGBT students. ”It’s made me feel really included.”

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“I enjoy buying things people owned once upon a time.” — Elizabeth Zhang

Elizabeth Zhang’s outfit is a happy marriage of frugality and splurge worthy. She thrifted her of-the-moment turquoise corduroy jumpsuit from a secondhand store in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood and received the designer brand Carel short white boots — reminiscent of the Courrèges go-go boots from the ’60s — as a birthday gift from her mom.

Thrifting is her go-to for buying clothes, stalking the curated shop in Pilsen and the bargains at Village Discount, where items go for $1 or $2 during the sales. “When they do sales, it’s absurd,” she says.

“I enjoy buying things people owned once upon a time,” says Zhang, who grew up in Beijing and went to high school in Santa Barbara, Calif. “The process is fun, like a treasure hunt. It’s exciting to have a piece that not a lot of people have. It’s a good way to have an individual style.”

Her ball chain pendant necklace is from the popular thrifting site Depop. We especially love the unusual “color slide” necklace.

“My friend’s dad took these photos in the ’90s, and she made necklaces out of them. It’s such a cute idea.”

 A junior in communications studies and art history, Zhang is pondering a career in graphic design or illustration.  

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“Wearing makeup is simply a hobby of mine, like cooking or reading or drawing.” — Sayeed Sanchez

Dressing and applying makeup is an art form for Sayeed Sanchez, a junior English and African American studies major. And he wishes other men felt liberated to do the same.

“I have a very unapologetic kind of style,” says Sanchez. “I like to stand out and look cool and stylish. In fall, you’ll find me wearing lots of dark lipsticks. Black is an iconic lip color I like to rock.”

His makeup and clothes — in maroon, purple, orange and red for this fall — complement one another. He also is a fan of layering of fishnet stockings beneath ripped jeans to add texture.

His style icons are singer Rico Nasty for her “goth girlfriend rocks look” and the gritty, shaved-head, gap-toothed fashion model Slick Woods.

Sanchez learned makeup application from his younger sister, Sabrina, and YouTube tutorials. His sister encouraged him to wear makeup at his Waukegan, Ill., high school when she saw him experimenting with it, but he wasn’t interested back then. “I’d be a boy wearing makeup,” he says. “I didn’t want to deal with all the drama.

“But when I came to college, I started getting more and more into it and looking at it as another form of expression.”

“I identify as a cis [cisgender] gay man, and I enjoy wearing makeup for the pure artistry of it. I think that gender expression can take many forms, and we shouldn’t be limited by whether we identify as a man or a woman.

“Wearing makeup is simply a hobby of mine, like cooking or reading or drawing. I understand some people think it’s weird or unorthodox for men, but my sister said, ‘If you like doing it, you should do it!’”

The skillful application of his eyelashes is not an easy task. “It’s something I learned how to do recently, and I’ve been proud of it because they’re difficult to use. I’m a big fan of doing lashes and eyeliner and occasionally shadow.”

His artistry in applying makeup has him in demand by his female friends and even his mom, Silvia Sanchez, whom he is tutoring in the art. “I’ll apply her makeup, and then we’ll go out to a nice dinner. It’s one of the ways I like to spend time with her.”

Marla Paul runs the Instagram feed @rebellewithmarla, where she shares photos of street fashion in Chicago. For more, check out our Q&A with Paul, a longtime journalist and former editor of Women’s Wear Daily and W Magazine. She is the health sciences editor for the Office of Global Marketing and Communications at Northwestern University. 

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Reader Responses

  • This is hysterical. “I like to wear my parents clothes from a long time ago.” Like 1980 or 1990. Somebody is in for an awakening.

    Bob Norris '78, Dixon, Ill., via Northwestern Magazine

  • Smart AND stylish! Such a fun piece.

    Erin Spain '10 MS, Chicago, via Northwestern Magazine

  • I've worked with Marla for a number of years now, as a health editor/reporter, and I had no idea she had a fashion background and her great Instagram! Loved seeing this feature in the magazine and reading about how students use fashion to express themselves. Thanks for sharing these stories!

    Nicole Kwan '07, New York, via Northwestern Magazine

  • Really enjoyed this article. A different and original take on campus life. So much fun to read how these students develop their personal style.

    Cathy Kennedy Chicago, via Northwestern Magazine

  • Your story “Wildcat Style, No Filter” by Marla Paul was quite touching. It’s a great way to feel in touch as an alumna with how students on campus are actually expressing how they’re thinking and feeling in their everyday life, not just in their milestone accomplishments. Would love to see more fresh stories like this. Kudos!

    Becca Donaldson '08, Milwaukee, via Northwestern Magazine

  • Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed “Wildcat Style, No Filter” this month. I'd love to see more stories like this!

    As a Medill kid, I loved discovering Marla's feed and then learning about her fascinating background as a fashion journalist. I think this is SUCH an inspiring and fascinating story for young journos!

    Katie O'Reilly '07, Oakland, Calif., via Northwestern Magazine

  • I read NU Magazine regularly and really enjoy it. I just wanted to drop a special note this month to say how much I loved the piece “Wildcat Style, No Filter.” What a fun and creative way to get to know some of the students on campus. I'd love to see more pieces like this!

    Jamie Poslosky '07, Washington, D.C., via Northwestern Magazine

  • I wanted to send a quick note to let you know how much I enjoyed “Wildcat Style, No Filter,” this month. I'd love to see more stories like this!

    Sirisha Yadlapati Sualy '10, Omaha, via Northwestern Magazine

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