His teaching style has made him enormously popular. Case in point: a Facebook group entitled “Actually Gordon Teskey Should Narrate in Middle-English For the Rest of My Life” currently boasts 54 members. But more importantly, he’s probably the only tenured professor on campus who regularly wears polka-dot ties. He often sports an old-school bowler cap while riding a yellow-wheeled bicycle around the Barker Center. With aplomb, even.
Harvard’s only fashion columnist (yours truly) sat down with the Canadian-born Teskey, not to examine his recently published book on John Milton—who reads books, these days, anyway? No, I was there for a chat about his haircut specifications, maternal grandfathers, and the usefulness of his handkerchief.
The Harvard Crimson (THC): Are you conscious of your style? When you wake up in the morning, are you working with any particular aesthetic palate?
Gordon Teskey: One certainly dresses as to look as if it was unconscious. Sometimes that takes a little reflection.
THC: How does your leisure dress differ from the items you wear to class? Do you give equal consideration to both?
GT: It’s about equal, yes.
THC: So then, do you incorporate the stereotypical American Ivy League Professor uniform into your wardrobe? The tweed blazer with the suede elbow pads, the oxford open at the neck, the ill-fitting brown corduroys? Do you embrace this archetype or do you rebel against it?
GT: I don’t own any of the items you just said.
THC: So you’re rebelling! I mean, do you feel like it’s a conscious effort, when professors do sport such clothes—to dress the part, in a sense?
GT: Well, remember that we’re talking about men here. When it comes to dress, men are conservative. Women are the opposite. Women are interested in change and men are interested in always staying the same. Especially in terms of the British standards of dress for men, what counts is not variety or interest, what counts is being correct. And in consequence, men have very conservative dress patterns. To be quite honest, I think most men would like to dress the way they did when they were about 12 or 14.
THC: Are you inspired by any specific literary dilettantes? Ernest Hemingway? Henry Miller? Oscar Wilde? John Milton?
GT: Not Oscar Wilde, though he was a great dresser. One of the most important things he said was that a gentleman’s clothes must always hang from his shoulders. John Milton was a very interesting, understated dresser. But the literary dilettante I am most inspired by was probably my maternal grandfather. Both my grandfathers were literary dilettantes. That is to say they wrote execrable poetry with great enthusiasm. They had most of Tennyson memorized.
THC: How Victorian of them!
GT: Edwardian. I’m not of that age yet.
THC: Are you inspired by any screen idols? Cary Grant? Gregory Peck? Jimmy Stewart?
GT: Oh yes, Cary Grant was a fantastically careful man. In the really old films the men were dressed wonderfully, and it’s amazing what these men can do with their handkerchiefs. Bing Crosby, in the early films, is amazing. His handkerchief is hanging down like a dog’s tail, everything else is impeccable. It’s sort of this licensed area of mess.
THC: I see you’re wearing a handkerchief.
GT: My grandfathers always did. They’re actually quite useful, you know. It’s amazing how many times you have to give someone a handkerchief.
THC: I hope you’re not making a lot of women cry and then feeding them smelling salts?
GT: They get colds, too.
THC: Is your fashion sense particularly influenced by the time you’ve spent in Europe?
GT: My casual dress is very much influenced by my time there, men’s casual dress, but not my more formal dress.
THC: Any particular reason?
GT: Because most of the time I am in Paris and in Paris it’s a very grubby look.
THC: Oh it is?
GT: I mean it’s very elegant. There’s a store in Paris...which does men’s clothes, but they are more or less destroyed-looking. The designers have carefully worked on these clothes so as to make them look as if they have been run over by several trucks.
THC: What about hair care? This is what inquiring female minds want to know. Actually, first—you have a mainly-female Facebook group devoted to you. Were you aware of this?
THC: Do you know what the Facebook is?
THC: But, back to the hair care question, do you have a specific haircut that you request? Or is it sort of the whim of the barber?
GT: That’s the most important thing, it seems to me, for men. For women, it’s a lot more complicated isn’t it? But for men it’s to get a good cut. Short on the sides, long in the top and use the clippers on the back.
THC: Your hair comes out really well, I have to say. You have not been a victim of make pattern baldness. Is that because of a maternal grandfather?
GT: Both maternal grandfathers.
THC: That’s impressive.
GT: It’s completely unfair. I think baldness on many men looks virile. It looks great. In fact, a lot of women say they like bald men. Or maybe they are just saying that to me.
THC: Really? I think they’re just saying that. I think most women are adherents to the distinguished gray or a slight balding. But totality is frightening, as it is in many instances.
GT: I ran into one of my students who was going bald and shaved his head completely smooth. He looked like a sort of French terrorist. It’s the Foucault look, I guess.
—Staff writer Rebecca M. Harrington can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.