Bianca Garcia, a senior art history and women’s studies double major from Alpharetta, Georgia, poses for a portrait outside of the Lamar Dodd School of Art.

For her high school senior year prank, Bianca Garcia and her fellow classmates decided to switch their school uniforms one day, so the male students came to school in skirts and the female students wore the male students’ pants. This immediately led to detention for the male students and no consequences for the female students.

Little did Garcia know this prank would fuel her passion for utilizing fashion as a way to understand social justice issues.

Four years later, Garcia is now a University of Georgia senior art history and women’s studies double major from Alpharetta, Georgia, and her love for fashion has shaped both her identity and her conversations.

Critical analysis of fashion

Garcia sees fashion as more than just wearing clothes or adopting a personal style. She believes fashion is worthy of “critical analysis.”

“Fashion really affects everyone in so many ways, whether it’s socially, politically or economically,” Garcia said. “There’s so many issues surrounding cultural appropriation and representation, which are aspects that I find so interesting.”

When approaching fashion as a focus of research, Garcia considers everything from identity in drag culture to feminism to the exploitation of laborers in countries in Asia as important conversations that all share a connection to fashion.  

Garcia also uses fashion as a tool to celebrate her own identity and also recognize other cultural and social differences within her community and globally.

“I think celebrating your identity when it’s already been marginalized is already an act of resistance,” Garcia said.

Embracing ethnicity

Fashion played a crucial role in helping Garcia go back to her ethnic roots. Growing up, instead of embracing her ethnic identity, Garcia often felt embarrassed and ashamed of her Filipino heritage, and she spent a lot of effort conforming to white American society.

However, after joining the Filipino Student Association at UGA during her freshman year, Garcia discovered a passion for community involvement and Filipino culture.

For three years, Garcia coordinated the fashion shows for FSA’s annual culture shows, including the most recent one held on March 23.

Through exposure to traditional and modernized tradition clothing while working on the fashion shows, Garcia was able to gradually understand more about her cultural background.

“[The fashion shows] have been a way for me to reclaim and take pride in my heritage in a way that I haven’t done before,” Garcia said. “It can really be an avenue for you to explore your cultural identity.”

Recently, Garcia was able to find another way to connect her background with fashion — through her great-great-grandmother.

“I’m actually in the process of trying to get a hold of some of her old clothes from the Philippines because I found out through photos that my great-great-grandmother and I actually share a very similar style and aesthetic,” Garcia said. “It’s crazy to think that fashion can really live on even in your family.”

‘A tool for social change’

While Garcia always expressed an interest in fashion, she attributes her real growth in developing her own style to her job at Atomic, a vintage store in Athens.

Garcia said she’s inspired every day by the “explosion of beautiful colors and patterns” and her coworkers. Her personal style consists of lots of vintage pieces that incorporate various color combinations, florals and bold patterns.

“It’s hard not to be inspired when you’re in an environment that’s sparking creativity and imagination,” Garcia said.

One of Garcia’s greatest inspirations includes Trevor Blake, who is the manager of the store and Miss He when she performs with the drag troupe, The Kourtesans. 

Blake describes her own personal style as “fluid and bold” while drawing inspiration from “’80s and ’90s aesthetics.”

“Our motto is always to be happy and comfortable in what you’re wearing, and I think it’s been really cool to see Bianca’s aesthetic change … and her level of confidence when she interacts with people,” Blake said. “It’s been such a joy to see how she experiments and approaches silhouettes, colors and patterns in her everyday looks.”

Garcia puts an emphasis on looking good and creating thoughtful outfits every day, regardless of whether she’s going to class or “not doing much.” For Garcia, fashion has become a form of therapy that has allowed her to have that creative outlet.

“I have a pretty quiet and reserved demeanor, so I’m afraid people will think I’m boring and serious because I’m not very verbally charismatic,” Garcia said. “I just hope my sense of style will show I can be fun.”

In the future, Garcia hopes to foster important conversations with fashion to encourage others to see fashion as something that isn’t trivial.

“Fashion is a tool for social change,” Garcia said. “It’s a way to elevate the voices of those who are denied visibility and agency to tell their stories.”

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