Nzinga Acosta, wearing a turquoise sweater and skirt in front of a blue sky dotted with clouds.
Capturing The Culture

You Are What You Wear

A UW-Madison junior is here for a fashion revolution — that includes helping us look good

The concept of fashion is something that does not have a singular definition. It can mean something different based on a person’s experience with clothes, culture, color and how it has influenced their life. So what does fashion do for us?

For UW-Madison junior and Retail and Consumer Behavior major Nzinga Acosta, she uses fashion as a form of self expression and describes fashion as having a purpose.

“Fashion is a way that we interact with the world and it is how we share ourselves with the world,” Acosta says. “Fashion allows us to share what we are feeling and what we stand for.”

Acosta was first introduced to clothes making, fabrics and color all through her mother at a very young age. Her mother used to make dance costumes for multiple dance companies throughout the Milwaukee area and that is who Acosta says she gets the majority of her inspiration from.

“I learned fractions from taking people’s measurements and I learned colors through spools of thread. Being able to see fashion as an art form was really big in my upbringing,” Acosta says.

She credits her knowledge of sewing and using different machinery to make clothes to her mother, but after she was able to master the basics, she was able to learn and expand more on her own.

Acosta says that within her sense of fashion she tries to pull from different current trends, but also puts her own spin on things styling different outfits based on what her current inspirations are.

“I like to look at trends and see how they have evolved over time. I like to pull inspiration from things that are current but also I draw a lot of inspiration from the world around me,” Acosta says.

When asked about which article of clothing or accessory is a staple for her or helps her complete a look, Acosta says that it’s a wrap when it comes to earrings.

“Everything else could be completely toned down, but once I put those earrings on I’m dressed up in my mind,” she says.

These days she says that her current style resembles earthy tones and is based on finding serenity.

“Lately I’ve been drawn to a lot of earth tones like blues, greens, and beiges. I think that this comes from me searching for serenity and grounding,” she says.

It was very intriguing to hear about Acosta’s opinions about the power of clothing and how for her it is more complex than just something you put on. Clothes almost serve as a person’s armor and are going to be their defense against the world. Clothing can be a person’s safe haven.

“I think clothes have the power to share a lot more than just putting on a jacket because it’s cold outside. Clothes have the power to express and reflect what is going on in the world around us,” she says.

To Acosta, clothes have the power to evoke different emotions.

In the future, a fashion line might be in store for Acosta. She explains how she has had the idea of creating a social media account called Acosta Customs, for her to create commissioned customized outfits.

“Back in high school people used to commission me to make prom dresses,” Acosta says. “The way that I know to work with people is a very individualized approach.”

Fashion moves through different phases through the decades, and sometimes trends cycle in and out of fashion and back in again. But Acosta can’t pick one era she favors the most.

“The 80s immediately come to mind for color, but I really love the 70s for the Black Power Movement. And that’s another thing when we talk about fashion having a purpose, it is a form of resistance,” she says.

She explained how the 70s were a period when the afro was a big deal. It was embraced by so many during that era that it had an impact in more ways than one. Activist and Black Panther Party member Angela Davis frequently wore her hair in an afro. Others like Diana Ross, Nina Simone and The Jackson 5 just to name a few, were other well-known figures who wore their hair out in an afro during this era.

We spoke about what the current era of fashion looks like for us today and we both agreed that it includes a mixture of different past eras combined into one.

“I would say that the current era of fashion is basically ‘how wrong you can go’ because it involves mixing multiple styles into one but still making it flow,” she says.

In today’s fashion trends we see a mixture of different styles being meshed into one, like bell bottom jeans that have a street-style vibe while being accompanied by 90s inspired jewelry all make a statement at the same time.

“If we are looking at trends in general and looking at clothing we are seeing a lot of empowering messages everyday. We see this especially when it comes to embracing our hair or embracing our own cultures and what that looks like,” Acosta says.

She has always embraced dressing modestly and it is something that she embodies in her style and the clothes that she chooses to wear and style.

To Acosta, Capturing The Culture is key to her identity as a Rastafari and her connection to modest fashion.

“My Rastafari culture has had a huge influence on my fashion sense,” Acosta says. “Growing up dressing more modestly in my Rastafari culture and I did not see a lot of influence in that around me.”

“Within my own clothing creation I carry a level of consciousness and pay attention to how I am capturing my culture and make sure that I am paying homage to it.”

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