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History major born in the wrong decade

Nick Jaramillo

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Different ethnicities, religions, subcultures. The resplendent diversity of students hustling about the campus every day. Take a stroll through the quad area and you’ll see goths, gangbangers, jocks, yuppies, maybe an evangelical handing out free bibles, and perhaps even Libby Souza.

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Souza’s not like the rest of the student body at COS. In fact, it might be fair to say she’s unlike anyone else you’re likely to meet. Because whereas other people may identify with certain subcultures like the hipster scene or role-playing communities, Souza identifies with a fairly unorthodox aesthetic you’ll seldom see anywhere outside of a classic movie on basic cable—the halcyon years of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s.

“My family was always pretty old-fashioned,” recalls Souza, cooly sifting through her early childhood memories like an antique jukebox shuffling through its selection of old school jams. “We listened to old music from the 1930s all the way to the present day. I’ve always had that feel for that, especially the 50s. I love it.”

Indeed, Souza’s eclectic sense of self is informed by popular music and movies from the heyday of Americana. Souza cites a young Joan Crawford, Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland, Rita Hayworth, Lucille Ball, and Betty Grable, among others, as some of her personal inspirations.

“The 40s are my favorite era, but the 50s, I just truly love the music and the movies,” squeals Souza, with iconic scenes from How to Marry a Millionaire and Summer Stock undoubtedly flashing through her mind. “Movies really got me influenced, seeing Ginger Rogers from the 30s dancing with Fred Astaire. The elegance of things.”

Souza’s love of mid-20th century culture extends even into the world of music, where she cites Elvis Presley, a giant of the era, as one of her favorites. Take a gander at her phone or MP3 player and you’ll find a playlist that looks like it was composed by an 85 year-old rather than the spry 19 year-old Souza.

“You go on my MP3 player, it’s an old lady MP3 player,” laughs Souza, with an air of pride in her anachronistic choice in tunes. “Someone steals it, ‘this is useless!’ Because it’s all old people stuff.”

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But the most dramatic effect Souza’s love for the so-called Golden Age of American culture is the way it transformed her sense of fashion. Going further than just idolizing the performances of Judy Garland and Rita Hayworth, Souza began dressing in classic 40s and 50s garb during her high school days.

“I started my fashion my sophomore year and ever since then I’ve truly embraced who I was,” says Souza. “If you see me, I dress 40s sometimes, but mostly 50s, I’ve noticed. Because you can see more clothes from the 50s in the stores than you would from the 40s.

“I always wanted to dress up like that, it’s just the courage of doing it. A lot of people were judgmental, especially when I was in high school.”

High school has never been known as a place that readily accepts nonconformity and for Souza, the mixed reactions to her old-fashioned style did little to hamper her passion for the time period. In fact, as she’s matriculated to COS, she finds more people who appreciate her unique fashion aesthetic.

“I’ve gotten pretty dirty looks, I’ve gotten side-comments,” reflects Souza. “But the majority of the time, it’s compliments. Girls come up to me, ‘oh, I just love your fashion!’ So, I like that but I do see the bad remarks. I just avoid it, turn the cheek. I don’t give a fuck what they think. I’m just doing this because I like it. It makes me who I am. It makes me confident.”

For Souza, her fashion choices are not just a phase or desire to be different than everyone else. Souza feels her sense of fashion and identification with the past has profoundly changed her sense of self-worth for the better.

“There was always this deep, darkness in myself because I was so insecure. I thought I was ugly. … When I finally embraced it, you know, ‘I’m gonna do this! I like that, I should do this!’ I cut off my hair, dressed my own way. I used to make my own clothes at first. Then I truly felt confident in myself. I still have that insecurity sometimes, but it’s way better now that I found myself. It’s the way I dress. I found myself in my fashion.”

However, Souza’s bold decision to stray from the cultural norms of contemporary society have left her open to criticism from her peers. While many people glorify the 1940s and 50s, there existed a great deal of controversy over some morally troubling happenings of the time, such as Jim Crow laws, racism and the Civil Rights Movement, and a slew of other contentious topics.

“Just recently I’ve been called out in class for liking that era,” says Souza. “Because people think, ‘oh, it’s a corrupt era. Why do you want to live in that era?’ I’m like, it doesn’t mean I’m corrupt. I just like the fashion.”

“Things were more simple, even though there was a Cold War going on,” continues Souza. “It may have been corrupt, but hell, people were living a great life. … There was crime and there were terrible things going on at the time, but back then you were closer as a family. You didn’t need all this technology to entertain you.”

Unsurprisingly, one of Souza’s great interests in life—besides fashion, obviously—is history. From an early age, years before she began experimenting with her own fashion choices, young Souza was riveted by tales told to her by her grandparents of the 1940s and 50s, sparking an intense interest in American history.

“My grandparents were from the era and they would tell me stories and stuff and I’m like, ‘that seems like a bomb ass time!’” exclaims Souza. “My grandparents had a great influence on me, but that was way before school. I would hear all these stories when I was younger, but then when I would get to school I would hear the historical facts and that’s even more cool. Ever since I was young I was really into history.”

Eventually, once she became a student at COS, Souza made U.S. history her major after a brief flirtation with following her idols Ginger Rogers and Lauren Bacall into acting.

“I wanted to act, but that’s not really practical, you could say,” concedes Souza. “Millions of people try to do it. I think I have what it takes, but there’s a lot more prettier girls than me out there. So, I’m just going to history. That’s one of my biggest loves, history. That’s all I talk about.”

Although much of the 19 year-old Souza’s life remains ahead of her, she does not foresee herself changing either her fashion or passion for the eras past. To her, dressing the way one wants and presenting themselves to the world as a unique person with varied, even unusual interests is an instrumental part in finding one’s self identity.

“I think I’m still going to keep to the style because it’s who I am,” concludes Souza. “It makes me feel good about myself. … I encourage people to dress the way they want. I’m not judging anybody that wears sweats or is into goth or country-western stuff because it’s who they are. … I respect them a lot. I don’t judge people. I just judge them by their character.”

A truly old-fashioned sentiment from Libby Souza, the girl born in the wrong decade.

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History major born in the wrong decade