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Granted, Harvard has never earned a reputation as the fashion capital of academia.
But to some, Boylston Hall bears a striking resemblance to the most fashionable Madison Avenue boutiques. The looming headquarters of the Romance Languages and Literature Department is allegedly the home of some of Harvard's best-dressed professors and graduate students. Its cross-cultural intellectuals have earned a reputation for blending European flair with American practicality to produce a look that is 100 percent Boylston.
Take, for instance, William D. Cole, a grad student who is the head teaching fellow for a popular core course. Framed by the doorway of Boylston, he wears a 100 percent cotton "Harvard Bridge" tee-shirt. His gray shorts and sweat socks with blue stripes match impeccably. The white leather tennis shoes with gray trim add a perfect final touch.
"I am Mr. Style," remarks Cole, tongue firmly implanted in cheek. "The last word in fashion."
"Actually," he adds, "I usually dress more nicely than this."
Although Cole may not epitomize the clothing-conscious Romance Languages stereotype, he is quick to affirm its accuracy. He, like others, attributes the fashion phenomenon to the department's overwhelming European influences.
"It's 100 percent true that people in our department dress better than people in other departments," says Cole. "There are more Europeans and Latin Americans [and] they're more careful about the way they dress."
Second-year French student Nick Nesbitt--with longish hair, khaki pants, a plaid shirt and wire-rim glasses--gives a similar view of the Boylston scene.
"The difference here is that there are European personalities, whether they're European or not," Nesbitt observes, adding that most Boylston denizens take their fashion cues from the continent.
As Nesbitt explains his fashion philosophy, he is joined by graduate student Kareen Obydol. Originally from Guadaloupe but also a transplanted Parisian, she is dressed in a black denim jacket and shorts ensemble. Wearing black sandals, black sunglasses, long beaded earrings and a brass ear cuff, she sports an elaborate braided hairstyle.
Citing Obydol as an example, Nesbitt continues. "Everyone in the department is different."
"There is a lot of variation," he says. "There's not a particular style."
But there are those in Boylston--including some wearing the funkiest outfits--who deny the grad students' tendencies towards the tres tres chic. One new staff member who was wearing an overdyed denim dress and Western-style turquoise jewelry says she has "no general sense" of the uniqueness of a Romance Language fashion.
And Marilina Cirillo, a first-year Italian student, is dressed rather conservatively for the first day of classes. She seemed uninterested in all this talk of fashion.
"Harvard students in general dress strange," she observes.
But although Romance Lang and Lit students seemed particularly impressed by their own sense of fashion, other departments are not about to let their "Best Dressed" reputation go unchallenged.
"History people are neat," says a Robinson Hall staffer wearing a blue blouse ("cotton," she notes), a white skirt ("linen") and Barbara Bush-esque pearls.
"Some are very well dressed [and] dapper," she says of Robinson Hall inhabitants. "There isn't that sort of 1960s sloppiness."
Student Jonathan Petropoulos--donning a preppy blue Oxford dress shirt, khakis, and black penny loafers--agreed.
"People here are not generally vain," he says. "Graduate students who have more professional status are more image conscious," he says of his peers who are lucky enough to hold teaching positions.
Petropoulos draws a careful distinction between American and European styles within his department. Like the Romance Lang and Lit department, he says, "you do have the Euro chic crowd here."
Despite the History Department's low-key attitude towards fashion, its faculty members have gained a reputation for being conscious of their appearances.
While Coordinator of Undergraduate Studies in History Dennis N. Skiotis does believe that "tweed jackets and khakis dominate," he does admit that "a fair number of the faculty wear suits."
And Petropoulos says that the only Robinson Hall occupants who frequently asked him how they looked were professors.
But many tee-shirted, tennis-shoed graduate students in the History department--and for that matter, many tee-shirted, tennis-shoed graduate students all over campus--did not seem to care at all about the GSAS fashion scene.
Three students wearing blue jeans in Robinson Hall said the only thing they knew about their department's clothing was that "it is required" and that it should be warm for those planning to hang out in the department library.
And two Cellular and Developmental Biology students at work in the Biological Labs, Winston J. Thomas and David M. Rose, promptly dismissed the matter of fashion.
"Casual," they said in unison, and then turned back to their work.
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