Possibilities are often overridden by convention. Revolutions lurk beneath the ordinary.

RJ Bailey, a young Wyoming County artist and 2015 graduate of Westside High School, recently saw the prospects in “every day details,” and turned them into a wearable work of art.

Bailey, 18, designed a vintage-style dress and fashioned it from daily copies of The Register-Herald as a project for Westside High teacher Susie Griffin’s art class. The dress was on exhibit at the recent 2015 Wyoming County Art Show.

“I love fashion design,” said Bailey, who’s entering Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College in the fall. “I’d wanted to make a dress all through art class, and I talked to Ms. Griffin about it.

“She was like, ‘If you have an idea, let’s get it laid out, and we’ll start on it.’”

Westside High student makes fashion headlines with old news

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Griffin, also an artist and a native southern West Virginian, had once dreamed of being a fashion designer. Although she married early and stayed close to home, her fascination with clothing and style has never waned.

Griffin’s creativity with fabric and design had once found an outlet in a costume business that she and her daughter, Beckley dancer Lisa Griffin, operated in the Beckley area. Nowadays, Griffin’s Westside High classroom boasts sewing machines and “clothing dummies.”

“Any time one of my students comes up to me and says, ‘I want to make or I want to do whatever, I’m all for it,’” Griffin said. “We just go for that.

“The sewing machines are always out,” she said. “When we first opened, I bought four (from school funds), and they stay out.

“We do a lot of sewing projects in arts class.”

Bailey had never designed a dress, he said, but he was enthralled by the full skirts and form-fitting bodices that 1950’s designers like Christian Dior had popularized for American housewives when they launched their ready-to-wear lines.

“I’ve always loved the 1950’s style dresses,” he explained. “Just the pouf and how they fit the body so perfectly.

“I was like, ‘Why not do that?’”

Bailey envisioned a dress with vintage flair. He sketched it, and, with Griffin’s expert suggestions, developed the pattern from scraps of material. He was working against deadline to present the dress as the art show.

“At first, I was just going to do a regular dress,” he said, explaining that he was looking for the right material. “Ms. Griffin was just like, ‘Do you want it to be a regular dress, or, what do you want?’

“I wanted it to stand out.”

Griffin had emphasized up-cycling — converting waste materials or useless products into something new. Bailey noticed that The Register-Herald was delivered to the school daily, and he’d seen newspaper dresses online.

He enlisted Griffin’s help with creating a base fabric.

“I showed him how to drape it on a dress form,” Griffin said. “He just took it from there and started draping and cutting and sewing.

“All that was left to do was to decide how he was going to put the newspaper on.”

Bailey then glued specially-cut pieces of The Register-Herald to the fabric base to turn yesterday’s headlines into a pristine fashion statement.

Classmate Kari Gunnoe of Oceana made up model Sara Walker, also a recent graduate, and arranged her hair in a 1950’s style for a photo shoot.

“We were looking for somebody to model the dress, and Sara was in class that day, and she said, ‘I’ll try it on,’” reported Bailey. “She goes and tries it on, and it fit her perfectly. She looked amazing in it.”

The dress and the photos of Walker were exhibited at the Wyoming County Art Show, where the fashion display drew a positive reaction from patrons and revealed some stereotypes about art and fashion design.

“Everybody that came in was like, ‘You made that?’” Bailey recalled. “They all loved it.

“They were excited that somebody other than a female could do something like that.”

Bailey said he plans to complete his studies at SWVCTC and enter Marshall University for a fashion marketing and design degree.

He said he also has his eye on New York University and a fashion career in the Big Apple.

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