Since 2021, Daily Free Press opinion columnist Sujena Soumyanath has been writing “Wear Me This,column style, and social politics. Sustainability, cultural appropriation, and fashion activism are just a few of the targets in her sights. It’s not hard to connect fashion to the political conscious, she says—in fact, it’s getting harder and harder to avoid.
In June, the elitism of Professional Journalists (SPJ) named international affairs major Soumyanath (Pardee’25) a finalist for its Mark of Excellence for her column. The SPJ awards honor “the best in student journalism” at the collegiate level, and Soumyanath placed in the Art/Fashion Journalism category.
BU Today checked in with Soumyanath about the origins of “Wear Me This,” its future, and how a new generation is using fashion as a space for social change.
How did you react when you found out?
Sujena Soumyanath: I didn’t even know that I had been submitted for the award, so I was totally surprised. One of the [Free Press] board members messaged me on Slack one day, saying, ‘I submitted you for this SPJ award….and you’re a finalist.’ It’s really cool; I’m really thankful to the Free Press for helping me do this and for nominating my work.
“Wear Me This” has such a strong sense of timeliness. What’s the connection between your major and what you write about?
Originally, I wanted to write a column about social and political issues, but then I started to feel like that can become an echo chamber, especially at a place like BU—it’s just preaching to the choir. So then I thought, okay, let me just write about fashion then, because that’s something that I’m interested in. As I started writing about the trends that I noticed, I started to notice that they were tied to the political issues that I care about. The connection between the two happened very organically.
Why use style and fashion as a lens to see the world through?
In a certain way, I feel like fashion operates outside of the way that we’re told to act, or speak, or consume things. I think sometimes the fashion industry can bring out the worst in society, because it’s seen as so superficial that people don’t feel the need to apply a rigorous set of ethics. But I think it’s actually good that fashion is a space that’s so far outside of the norm, or outside of where politically correct or ethical things happen, because then it allows us to comment on it.
Can you give an example of a time when fashion challenged our code of ethics?
I think a good example might be the comeback of Y2K fashion: early 2000s trends like low-rise jeans and little mini tops and things like that. It does enforce this idea that skinny bodies are more desirable, though in [present] society, we’ve kind of come to this idea that certain body types shouldn’t be “in trend.”
What about on a larger scale? What are the biggest issues that the fashion industry needs to reckon with?
I think one of the biggest issues is elitism, and I think that’s the umbrella over all the other issues…. There is this mechanism that makes it so that the richest and most elite people in fashion—and their designs, and their takes on trends—are upheld, or what we perceive as the norm. It makes things inaccessible, even if we’re trying to be more inclusive in other ways.
Speaking of accessibility, there’s an interesting balance of high fashion and street style in your column. What are some elements that unite the two ends of the spectrum?
I think, more than ever, people are realizing that fashion can’t be insulated from what’s going on in the world. Whether it’s a designer making a new collection or just somebody on the street who’s really fashionable, I think both have to be in tune with the world. More and more, there’s this pressure to make what you’re wearing reflect your political beliefs. I don’t know if that’s necessarily good or bad, but I would say that that’s something that unites fashion on both sides of the spectrum.
And who are some of your personal style icons?
I really like Jean Paul Gaultier; his designs are so garish and freakish… I don’t even think about them as being elegant or stylish, but I really admire his strong sense of self. I also really like Iris van Herpen, how her designs push your idea of what cloth can do—it’s kind of like an optical illusion. Outside of high fashion, I really like [YouTuber] Emma Chamberlain. Her style has evolved a lot, but it’s still very accessible. She’s actually working with Louis Vuitton now, but she still maintains a really approachable vibe.
Are we going to see more “Wear Me This” features in the future?
I don’t know—I’m really interested in doing more reporting now. But I can’t deny that writing the column was just so enjoyable to me…. Fashion is just endlessly inspiring; there’s always someone or something to be inspired by, and that’s what I love about it. So we’ll see. It’s always there for me to come back to, but it might be time to chase new horizons with my writing. Really, I think I just want experience.