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Op-Ed: Programs & Colleges for Aspiring Fashion Students in DC


21 Aug Op-Ed: Programs & Colleges for Aspiring Fashion Students in DC

by ATFDC Contributor Kelsi Lee Zimmerman

With the Fall semester starting within weeks, we started to think about the many young Washingtonians with fashion industry aspiration who can’t necessarily move to a majo fashion capital and decided to examine some their local options.

As we’ve made clear, the Nation’s Capital, the area that we all know as home, is on the rise on the fashion scene. DC is becoming more and more known for us; Fashiontonians being stylish and the eye candy of street style as well as office fashion. With that being said- personal style is not the only key to being known as fashionable, it is the fashion industry professionals in places like New York, London and Paris that help to shape the fashion industry just as much as the garments themselves do. The industry professionals in New York that fill the taxis in the Fashion District usually start out as students in the world renowned Parsons Institute or the Fashion Institute of Technology. In DC, there are programs that are growing in size each year that graduate young professionals to help mold and enhance the fashion scene in the DMV.

In Washington, DC Howard University (Main Office located at 2400 Sixth Street, NW) has recently converted their Fashion Merchandising program to a Fashion Design Bachelors Degree program where courses focused on fashion design will be apart of the curriculum as well as courses that enlighten student with emphasis on product development, consumer behavior and the production of a garment life cycle in the fashion market. Howard is a four year university right in the heart of the Nation’s Capital, where on-campus housing and residence life is provided to give students a real college experience, which is different from a lot of arts schools where fashion programs are typically taught. Not to mention that the students of Howard have also managed to make their way on to the list of Best Dressed Colleges by Womens Wear Daily and The Huffington Post. How about that for a fashionable reputation?

“Second place went to Howard University in Washington”

In Bowie, Maryland – found in Prince Georges county; a neighbor of DC, Bowie State University offers a Bachelors Degree in Visual Communication and Digital Media Arts with a concentration in Fashion Design. This degree enlightens young fashion enthusiasts with an eye for creativity to learn the hands on production of garment in today’s market where designs are ultimately carried out through digital media to create their own home-based collections. This four year university, offers on-campus housing and endless student activities at an affordable tuition rate in a suburban community just a short drive from Capital Hill.

If you’re looking for more of an art-based education, The Art Institute of Washington, Arlington, VA campus (1820 North Fort Myer Drive, Arlington, VA 22209) and Dulles, VA campus (The Corporate Office Park at Dulles Town Center, 21000 Atlantic Blvd., Suite 100, Dulles, VA 20166 ) have a Fashion and Retail Management Bachelors Degree that enlightens prospective fashion students on the world of fashion retail, the garment life cycle and the in’s and out’s to fashion retail marketing and management tactics in today’s competitive fashion industry. While both campuses don’t offer traditional on-campus housing, the schools are located in city centers that allow for easy accommodations to shopping, off-campus housing, and easy commute.

photo courtesy of Art Institute of Virginia/Solomon Babani-John Akins

Along with The Art Institute of Washington, Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia (2807 North Glebe Road | Arlington, Virginia 22207) offers an outstanding Fashion Merchandising program at a four-year institution that gives it’s students a typical college experience but with feel of a “New York City School” fashion program. Marymount’s fashion merchandising majors earning their bachelors degree studying buying, product development, visual merchandising, public relations and fashion events, writing and the media as well as international trade in the fashion industry. Their program also offers a minor in fashion design so students can receive an education on both sides of the industry.

Along with great internship and study abroad options, Marymount Fashion Merchandising students produce “Portfolio In Motion”; a fashion show highlighting the academic year where design students will showcase their collections. In 1990, Marymount’s Portfolio in Motion kicked off the program annual and highly anticipated “Designer of The Year” where fashion legends including Carolina Herrera, Eileen Fischer, Isabel Toledo, Peter Som, Cynthia Rowley, Michael Kors, Kay Unger,CHADO Ralph Rucci, Oscar de la Renta, Mark Badgley & James Mischka and more have been honored.

photo courtesy of Teen Vogue / Marymount Portfolio in Motion 2009

So say you’ve graduated with a Fashion Design degree from one of the local universities, your diploma in hand and latest collection nearby hanging from a garment rack, where does an up and coming designer in the DC area go from here? What can the city do to provide designers with an opportunity to make it in the fashion industry, and to enhance the fashion scene in DC? While DC fashion is growing, these are questions we are hoping we can provide with more concrete direction in the months to come.

UPDATE: As noted by a comment below, we missed Virginia Commonwealth University (located at 325 North Harrison Street Richmond, VA 23284).  They have an undergraduate degree Bachelor of Fine Arts in Fashion and Bachelor of Arts in Fashion  (Merchandising).


featured image courtesy of


A 21 year old Maryland Native and Senior Fashion Merchandising major at Stevenson University fashion has consumed Kelsi’s life from a young age and continues to as she travels to experience the fashion scenes from various cities across the world. Kelsi is thrilled to be back in the DMV and help bring to light the rising fashion scene right here in DC.

  • Linda Lee
    Posted at 11:17h, 21 August Reply

    You didn’t include Virginia Commonwealth University, School of the Arts, Fashion Design and Merchandising Department. The school is located in Richmond, Virginia. (2 hours from DC) VCU offers a 4 year degree program for design majors ( BFA degree) and Merchandising (BA degree).

    • ATFDC
      Posted at 11:36h, 21 August Reply

      Thank you Linda for your addition! We will update post and include VCU!

      • Karen Videtic
        Posted at 14:12h, 21 August Reply

        Thanks Linda Lee …. VCU Fashion has over 380 fashion design and merchandising majors, and is the largest program of it’s kind in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
        Thank you for making sure that we are getting the exposure to the DC metropolitan area.

        Karen Videtic
        Professor, VCU Fashion

  • Antonio Edwards
    Posted at 16:58h, 21 August Reply

    You also did not include the University of the District of Columbia Community College. They offer an Associates Degree in Fashion and Merchandising.

    • ATFDC
      Posted at 17:35h, 21 August Reply

      Thanks Antonio! It’s great that there are so many programs in DC on all different levels.

  • TMelchishua
    Posted at 22:58h, 05 October Reply

    Thank you! Great article…fashion is on fire here in the DMV! Best regards to all institutions and designers. Let’s work together.

    • YMoore
      Posted at 23:45h, 05 October Reply

      VCDMA in WWD!

  • A.R.Edwards
    Posted at 12:32h, 18 August Reply

    It would be so nice is Howard University had an evening Fashion and Design program for students whom wish to further their career in Design. It so sad that most universities in the DC/MD/VA do not have a program such. Its really sad, for it leave adults behind.

  • Ecarcamo
    Posted at 22:17h, 30 March Reply

    There is a new art school in Falls Church, VA who offers a fashion design program with evening and weekend classes. It’s called the V*GLAM Institute of Art.

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