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Seven Sisters Style – Q&A + Giveaway

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I am excited to introduce you to a fellow Rizzoli NY author, Rebecca C. Tuite. Rebecca’s newly released book: Seven Sisters Style is fantastic! It holds a special place in my heart since my sweet and talented daughter Alex attended one of the Seven Sisters Schools.

I seriously think I was the first person to pre-order the book. Since Alex went to Wellesley, this book has her name written all over it. Alex loves style and is the quintessential Wellesley woman. She’s chic, smart, accomplished and obsessed with everything “Seven Sisters style”.

When we dropped Alex at Wellesley her freshman year, she seriously wanted to wear a dress, hat, and gloves. We should have been dropping her off in 1962 instead of 2006. No one embraced all the secret rituals and traditions more than our daughter Alex. She’s always been conservative and traditional in her style (completely opposite of me I might add). She’s the original prep. Pared down and simple and always classic. Yes, she wears only pearls.

Here’s a glimpse at one of the Wellesley Rituals – The Hoop Roll

Then: Wellesley College Hoop Roll

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And Now: Alex with her BFF Katie at Wellesley College

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I am super excited to offer, along with Rizzoli NY, a giveaway of Rebecca’s book to 1 lucky winner.{see how to sign up to win below}

I was dying to do a little Q&A with Rebecca and it seemed only natural that Alex should be asking the questions. Rebecca was very kind to answer all of her questions and her answers are wonderful. Alex and Rebecca, thank you.

Take it away Alex!

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Alex: Your book makes it clear that Seven Sisters style inspired fashion in a variety of ways. What do you think is the most important way the American college girl influenced fashion?

Rebecca: The American college girl’s influence on fashion is extraordinary and, as such, it is difficult to pinpoint a single garment or moment as their “most significant contribution” to our style history. The college girl’s influence really extends from the 1930s/40s, when she became an icon of the modern American woman; she was youthful, athletic, intelligent and she wore unfussy, smart sportswear that spoke to a new era. So, in many ways, it has been the “campus casuals” of the college girl that influence and inspire the most. Today, when you see designer interpretations of bermuda shorts, button-downs, “boyfriend jeans” rolled to the ankle, saddle shoes, monogrammed blazers; all of these found early popularity as part of the college girl “uniform.”

However, having the freedom on campus to dress as you want is, perhaps, the most important legacy of American college women. The emphasis on comfort and an active, independent lifestyle conducive to studying is something we take for granted today. We can trace so many of today’s campus staples to this pioneering group of young women. Even when I talk about the more formal styles popularized by Seven Sisters women in the book, I think that the fundamental idea that the students decided what worked best, faced down certain judgments and expectations (while upholding others), and made their own rules amongst themselves, is fascinating. Campus dress codes operate in much the same way even today, although with a few more pairs of pajama pants than was common around the mid-century!

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Alex: While all the photographs in your book are beautiful and vividly capture different style moments in American history, do you have a favorite?

Rebecca: I get asked this so much and it is honestly so, so difficult. I really adore each young woman and each photograph featured, and feel the same way about the hundreds of images not included in the book for one reason or another! I love the photograph of Jackie and JFK, with her in classic preppy campus style, and there is a spread that pairs an image of a Wellesley student ready for a formal wearing satin and cashmere, and a more recent photograph showing the very same style from just a few years ago, which demonstrates how timeless the look really is. But there is one photograph of Mount Holyoke students gathered together in a dormitory and blowing bubbles in 1945 that always makes me smile. They are wearing the best example of unfussy, classic Seven Sisters Style: Kilts, flannel skirts, crisp white button-downs, classic preppy saddle shoes, loafers and socks, crew neck sweaters and strings of pearls. But I just love the spirit of the photograph; this sense of solidarity, fun and friendship, not to mention impeccable and completely irresistible preppy style – that’s what Seven Sisters Style really is to me!

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Alex: I graduated from Wellesley in 2010 and have several fond fashion memories from my college years, including everyone on my floor sharing clothes and doing each other’s hair before dates and events. What are some of your favorite fashion memories from your time at Vassar?

Rebecca: Oh, I have so many similar memories of my time at Vassar – getting ready for the formal with the girls on my floor in Noyes (a dormitory), sharing clothes and make-up and finding great vintage pieces in sales in the Campus Center.  That’s what I loved seeing in all these photographs in the archives – there are all these shared style experiences that Seven Sisters women can still have together (even at the co-ed schools now!). At Vassar, I definitely showed up thinking I was going to channel Jackie Kennedy on campus, which was just so not the right look! So I mostly wore my usual preppy-ish staples, but I do vividly remember wearing a few favorite garments that year: A yellow and blue Crew Clothing rugby shirt (a very British-incarnation of a preppy shirt!); a gray Vassar sweatshirt that made me insanely proud, a pastel polka dot rain mac, and a pair of vintage brown boots I bought at a sale on campus for $12! And I had a black and white polka dot vintage dress for formals, with this amazing tiered ruffled skirt that I will forever associate with Vassar now. I think this is what makes Seven Sisters Style quite a nostalgic read for some alums, because there is a way in which memories really do become enveloped in the garments we wear as college students – they represent memories and experiences that are often really quite special.

Alex: You’re a recognized authority on Vassar Style. Does Vassar have a signature item of clothing? For example, Wellesley has a distinctive class beanie.

Rebecca: Vassar doesn’t have a tradition like the Wellesley beanies, actually. It does have traditions like wearing white dresses if you are on the Daisy Chain at Commencement (there are many other white dress traditions at each of the colleges), but it is interesting that one of its most “collegiate” garments was the college blazer, which reached the peak of its popularity in the mid-1950s and then was sort of forgotten. I’m working on these blazers now.

Alex: In doing research for your book, is there one preppy staple you wish would make a comeback?

Rebecca: College blazers and letter sweaters! Letter sweaters have definitely made a comeback though, much to my delight. You can find great versions everywhere, and at a variety of price points. Chloe has a beautiful one, ASOS also. In fact, my favorite one came from ebay and it was absolutely worth waiting for (I searched high and low for the perfect letter ‘R’ sweater a few years back!). The college blazers are just so incredible, and the subject of my current research. Of course you can find gorgeous preppy blazers at Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, J Crew, but I just love the idea of these classic Seven Sisters jackets making a comeback on campus and off, especially as the students themselves were so involved in designing and personalizing them

Alex: My best friend from Wellesley, Libby, was once described as someone who dressed “like Monaco royalty from the 70s.” What’s the best style compliment you’ve received?

Rebecca: Haha, that is an amazing compliment, I think I would like Libby’s style! One thing that was fun for me was when I was an undergrad, I had an office temp job, and I would often channel a different movie star or style icon in my office attire! So if someone in the office could say, “Oh, so today you’re Katharine Hepburn circa. The Philadelphia Story,” or “Audrey à la Sabrina, I’d feel quite chuffed at my little workplace-appropriate incarnation… and spend most of my shift planning the next day’s outfit!

Lately, however, my favorite shoes are beautiful pair of turquoise satin Manolo Blahniks that were a gift from my family on the publication of my book – and they match the color of the Seven Sisters Style cover perfectly! I’ve worn them for all my events and signings as a good luck charm, and it’s super fun when people notice that my Manolos match my book – it brings a whole new meaning to “matchy matchy!”

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Alex: In your book you highlight several fashion icons who epitomized Seven Sisters style in their day, including my personal fashion muse, Ali MacGraw. Are their any lesser known or forgotten style icons that today’s aspiring preps should look to for inspiration?

Rebecca: There are a few style icons I came across researching the book that were surprising (and many more that we just couldn’t fit into the book!). Diane Sawyer was a really great example for me, I loved seeing her early features in Glamour and Mademoiselle and the image in the book of her in that wonderful orange blazer couldn’t be more perfect. Martha Stewart was a featured in lots of magazines, including Mademoiselle, while she was just an undergrad in Bermudas at Barnard – if you are so inclined, you can trail through the archives for some great preppy style from her! I think it’s easy to forget Jane Fonda, too, but some of her early modeling really captures the Seven Sisters preppy aesthetic, especially the more formal side of the look that was present during the weekends. I didn’t realize how many Seven Sisters women Candice Bergen had played – I yearn for her outfits in Carnal Knowledge! And actually, one example that isn’t of a “real” Seven Sister, but is actually a film reference – Damsels in Distress, by the “preppy film director” Whit Stillman (see also, Metropolitan). You can see parallels to the Seven Sisters colleges in the storyline, actually, because the movie tells the story of a group of smart-talking, preppy college girls attempting to improve campus life in the aftermath of co-education at a formerly all-female “Seven Oaks” college. Their outfits, including cotton button-downs, sweaters, prim dresses and cardigans exude a modern, smart Seven Sisters style.

Alex: Okay, final question! Penny loafers, should they be worn with a penny in them or does it not really matter?

Rebecca:  If you want to wear your penny loafers in true Seven Sisters Style, you should actually pop a dime in your loafer! Around the 1940s-50s, a dime was the cost of a phone call in a public phone booth, so it was handy to have during those fun-filled weekends in neighboring Ivy League towns!

Students walking on campus, ca. 1970s

About the Book: The first beautifully illustrated volume exclusively dedicated to the female side of preppy style by American college girls. The Seven Sisters-a prestigious group of American colleges, whose members include fashion icons such as Katharine Hepburn, Jacqueline Kennedy, Ali MacGraw, and Meryl Streep-perfected a flair that spoke to an aspirational lifestyle filled with education, travel, and excitement. Their style, on campus and off, was synonymous with an intelligence and American grace that became a marker of national pride and status all over the world: from jeans and baggy shirts to Bermuda shorts and blazers, soft Shetland sweaters and saddle shoes, not to mention sleek suiting, pearls, elegant suitcases, kidskin gloves, kitten heels, and cashmere. “[The college girl’s] contribution to fashion is as American as Coca-Cola, baseball and hitch-hiking,” announced Harper’s Bazaar in 1935. Seven Sisters Style explores the multifaceted foundations and metamorphosis of this style.

Please enjoy the Seven Sisters Book Trailer:

Good Luck on the giveaway! I hope you win this amazingly stylish book! Open to US Residents only please.
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