What’s with the tam?

Fashion designers create custom tam for the inauguration of Chancellor Andrew Martin

Design sketches by Meredith Liu, a senior fashion design major in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. At left is a classic tartan plaid in WashU colors. At right is a series of light-hearted, STL-centric doodles. Both patterns are being fabricated into custom tams, one of which will be worn by Chancellor Andrew D. Martin during his inauguration Oct. 3.

As a fashion design major in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, senior Meredith Liu has studied and created a wide variety of garments. But in recent months, Liu turned her sights to a new challenge, designing two custom tams (the distinctive head covering typically seen as part of academic regalia) for Chancellor Andrew D. Martin.

Meredith Liu

The first design boasts a classic tartan plaid, based on university colors. “I played with thread counts until I found a plaid that was the most visually pleasing and compositionally balanced,” Liu said. “The warp and weft threads alter the appearance of the vertical and horizontal lines, and the areas where they overlap create a visual blend.”

The second features a series of light-hearted, St. Louis-centric doodles: the Gateway Arch, Brookings Hall, the Old Courthouse (now Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Park) and more. “I decided to include hand-drawn illustrations of some of Chancellor Martin’s favorite things,” Liu said. “It was just fun to create.”

Taken together, “I think the tams speak to the dual sides of the WashU atmosphere,” Liu added. “Professional and hardworking as well as quirky and idiosyncratic.”

Construction of both tams was led by associate professor Mary Ruppert-Stroescu, head of the fashion design program. First, she adapted Liu’s fabric designs to fit the tams’ specific shape, ensuring that the prints were highlighted whether seen from above or straight-on. Ruppert-Stroescu then printed the designs onto silk fabric; drafted a pattern, based on the chancellor’s existing tam; and assembled the final garment.

“Within the canons of academia, it’s rare that we get a chance to express personality and heritage,” Ruppert-Stroescu said. “But tams for doctoral level regalia do show a bit more leeway.

“The task was rather daunting, but Meredith is a very talented artist and fashion designer,” Ruppert-Stroescu added. “We tried to keep a balance of tradition and fun.”

As for which tam Chancellor Martin will choose… Tune in Thursday afternoon!

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