Dr. Phillip Ryan strides casually into his office, wearing a gray cardigan, a black tie with a strange white pattern, a blue-and-black checkered dress shirt and khakis. It’s not quite the attire I was expecting, but his style and demeanor are strangely comforting.
Admittedly, I know nothing about fashion. I couldn’t tell you the difference between classic and Bohemian styles or cashmere and silk fabrics (I may be slightly over-exaggerating but not much). Soon after I was assigned this fashion story, I set out to Google different fashion styles and even attempted various fashion personality quizzes online. Through my research, some key observations of the attire of the professors in the foreign language department and several insights from their students, I found that foreign language professors at Union have a very unique style.
Dr. Ryan, director of the center for intercultural engagement and professor of language, describes his style as “sales-rack chic.” Chic reflects something that is classic, stylish and smart. He usually wears neutral tones, such as gray, white, black, navy, brown and khaki, and he rarely wears bright colors.
“Absolutely no bright colors, and I find novelty and brightly colored men’s socks to be a travesty,” Ryan said. “Go black or go home is my rule. You’ve got these men who wear these brightly colored socks. That’s a no. Cry for help.”
Neutral tones are fitting for him. He is calm, cool, and casual on one hand and exudes a warmth and care on the other hand. He is lighthearted; he constantly cracks jokes and has us both laughing throughout our conversation.
“I’d like to quote Noam Chomsky,” Ryan said. “He said ‘In the world of fashion, one day you’re in, and the next day, you’re out.’”
Unaware of who Chomsky is (apparently he is a 20th century philosopher and linguist) and lacking knowledge of anything in the fashion world, I fall for Ryan’s joke until he later reveals that he had been messing with me.
“By the way, the quote I gave you from Chomsky is a joke,” Ryan said. “It’s really from Heidi Klum in Project Runway.”
The fashion of the foreign language department is heavily influenced by the professors’ travels and other cultures.
Dr. Julie Glosson, professor of Spanish, typically wears bright blouses, black pants and a touch of jewelry every day. Glosson describes her style as “conservative with a little flair” (her top had fringes this particular day). She generally likes solid colors and is very particular about her clothes, with much emphasis on fit and comfort.
“I’m not afraid of colors,” Glosson said. “I have one blouse that’s so bright that I always get comments.”
Glosson’s bright, vibrant style reflects her personality in the classroom. She is lively, playful, energetic, and one of the funniest professors I have ever had.
In her office, Glosson tells me that she loves “big jewelry” and that her biggest fashion sense comes from her jewelry. She sets down a bag and begins to pull out an assortment of beads, bracelets, necklaces, stones, rings and earrings.
“When I go overseas, I like to collect jewelry,” Glosson said. “They’re not expensive jewelry, but it reminds me of where I’ve traveled and what I’ve done. I wear it as it matches what I’m wearing, and it reminds me of places that I’ve been.”
Soon, jewelry made of amber, golden obsidian, Mexican opal, jade, coffee beans, seashells from Costa Rica, Peruvian coins and fish scales, and beads from Central American trees litter the table. She pulls out the last piece of jewelry, a bracelet from Costa Rica adorned with coins that are no longer in circulation.
“When I was a little girl, these coins were still in circulation, so it reminds me of my childhood in Costa Rica,” Glosson said. “They’re like little baby coins, and I used to play with them.”
Glosson enjoys teaching her students about the Spanish culture through her jewelry.
“I’ve really loved to wear my teaching in my jewelry,” Glosson said. “Students will ask me ‘oh, where did you get that?’ and I can tell them ‘oh, well this is from the such-and-such tree that grows native to the coastal regions of Costa Rica.’ It brings back a lot of really good memories for me.”
Next, I turned to foreign language students for insight into the department’s fashion. They backed up some of my observations and helped me compare both professors and students in the language department.
French students tend to dress with more chic and fancy and with muted and neutral tones, while Spanish students tend to dress with much more color and vibrancy. Ear piercings and headbands are also generally seen on Spanish students.
Malone’s students also note that she dresses according to the season and holidays and that Glosson’s colorful style reflects the colors found in Central and South American fashion.
Dr. Jean Marie Walls, professor of language and department chair, and Victoria Malone, assistant professor of language and coordinator of the study abroad program, also have some distinctive styles. Both wear a variety of colors in a sophisticated way, and their style reflects their personalities. Malone’s style is more eclectic, while Dr. Walls’ style is more sophisticated. Fashion has become Walls’ creative outlet.
“I view fashion as an expression of creativity with a tad of innovation and surprise thrown in,” Walls said.
Whether styles reflect the unique personalities of the wearers, like Dr. Ryan’s casual attire reflecting his lighthearted and friendly attitude, or the style reflects other cultures, like Dr. Glosson’s jewelry and bright colors, the fashion of the foreign language department most definitely stands out.
Photos courtesy of Brent Walker