From her marijuana-leaf-print dress to her platform moon boots, Karmenife Paulino ’16 has a knack for capturing attention and “radiating happiness,” as she puts it. Paulino has spent most of her life in Harlem, N.Y. but has also lived in Eugene, Ore. and experienced a range of environments before she finally chose Wesleyan as her home. This English major has been heavily involved in the Eclectic society throughout her days on campus and cites her fellow housemates as inspiration for her sense of style. She sat down with The Argus to discuss fashion as a means of empowerment.
The Argus: To what extent do you consider yourself interested in fashion?
Karmenife Paulino: I guess I’m very interested, because I’m pretty obsessive with the way that I dress. I use it as a form of self-expression. There’s a lot of freedom and confidence that I’ve gained just from dressing myself, and, I guess, just learning how to feel comfortable in my own skin has been the biggest gift from my sort-of fashion sense. And just learning not to be ashamed of my body because, as women, we’re told, you know, unless the female body is shown in a way that’s for male consumption or advertisement, it’s vulgar. Just learning how to do my own thing has really helped me break free in a lot of ways. But I would say I’m interested in fashion, but I’m not interested in the fashion industry, because the fashion industry is so fucked!
But yeah, fashion is a huge thing for me. It’s a way to put myself out there for the rest of the world. And if I’m okay with it, everything sort of [works]. It’s like I’m reclaiming my own body. Because people tell me, “Oh you shouldn’t show your boobs,” or, since my boobs are too big, “You can’t wear that,” or, “You can’t wear mesh with no bra underneath.” Like, who the fuck are you to tell me what I can or cannot wear?
There’s always gonna be one person who’s upset, so let them stay mad, and do your own thing. And then you save so much time and energy just doing that.
A: How long would you say you’ve been interested in what you wear?
KP: I guess [since] I came here, because I was a little bit restricted growing up. I grew up in a very strange household, and I wasn’t really able to be myself there. I went to a private Waldorf School in Manhattan. And although a lot of the teaching methods there are what got me here, at the end of the day, the education was very Eurocentric, and the environment was very homophobic. I didn’t really take that much interest in exactly what I was wearing because I just didn’t really feel like I mattered. And then when I came here, I came without any parental support of any kind; I was just all by myself. And while that was really scary, there was something really liberating in the fact that I could do whatever I wanted. And I just started playing around with different outfits.
I had run away from home the summer before I came to Wesleyan. And my best friend, she makes incredible clothes, and she was like, “You need something that’s gonna make you feel really good when you go to school,” and she made me this sequin bodysuit. It was incredible, and I think that was what propelled me to do it. Because when I wore that here, and I saw the way that people were looking at me, and I looked at myself in the mirror and [I] felt like I was just radiating. I was just radiating happiness. And I was like, “This is something I can do every day,” and I started doing that afterwards.
A: How would you describe your personal style in three to five words?
KP: I always try to go for like the unique, extraterrestrial dominatrix kind of look. Like I always want to appear very dominant and confident, and that can be mixed into basically anything.
A: What do you like most about style at Wes?
KP: I feel like here, everyone appreciates when people do their own thing. I feel that when people look at me, and I feel the same way when I look at other people on this campus. And while there are some things that I necessarily wouldn’t wear, there’s just a certain feeling of pride when I see someone else wearing something and they’re really loving what they’re wearing. And I feel like that’s just a common thing on this campus. People come up to me and are like, “Well, I wouldn’t wear that, but you look great!” There’s just a mutual appreciation for each other.
A: What do you dislike about style at Wes?
KP: I’ve been seeing more Crocs around lately, and that’s really bothering me. I’ve seen three [pairs] and that’s been enough. They’re freaking me out!
A: Where are your favorite places to get your clothing?
KP: I love Etsy. I usually shop online; that’s why I never get anything done. Etsy’s one of those places where you have to sift through a lot of crap. But when you find the good shit, it’s so good. And, surprisingly, eBay! I got everything I’m wearing right now from eBay except my shoes and this jacket. I love thrift shopping: I love going to Goodwill, I love going to Buffalo Exchange. And some of my favorite pieces my best friend has actually made for me.
A: Where do you draw style inspiration from on and off campus?
KP: I really look up to…people like Jimi Hendrix, FKA twigs, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj. And I actually am inspired a lot by living in Eclectic. Just because everyone there is so diverse, and there’s just a real celebration of that diversity. So when I want to try on new things, or experiment with certain things, I feel like I have a safe space to do that in.
A: Do you have an article of colder weather clothing that you can’t wait to wear?
KP: Yeah, I have this Bart Simpson sweater and this Bart Simpson matching skirt that I can’t wait to wear together… I’m excited to wear that, it’s always fun.