As the title of this post suggests, I am a voracious reader–have been since I was a child. The daughter of an English professor and poet-cum-doctor, it was hardly surprising to find my head stuck in some novel (or two), my imagination propelled into adventures and storylines miles and miles away from my suburban environs.
My mother would take me to Taylor Bookstore, a Mom-n-Pop enterprise that sadly shuttered its doors at the unsightly presence of Barnes & Noble, every week in Dallas Texas and set me free amongst the children’s fiction section to help supply my habit.
I would promptly sprawl out on the floor, submerging myself into the prose of Judy Bloom’s, Ramona, or Lucy Maud Montgomery’s, Anne of Green Gables, while my mother gathered her own choices (mostly anything by Whitman or Dickinson).
We would sometimes quibble over my selections, as she felt The Babysitters Club pure fluff compared to the depths of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (and in truth, she was right so I read both), but reluctantly she would cave. Seeing me read was a pleasure alone. It is then no surprise that the library became a huge social nucleus for me as I advanced in age.
When I was a student at Brown, I was a ubiquitous presence on the slabbed steps of the Rockefeller Library and within its shabby 70s interiors. On such a small campus, one so well sequestered from its Ivy brethren amongst the verdant trees and hills of Rhode Island, the library was constantly streaming with action. Much chatter, gossip relayed; intellectual discourses incited and quelled; many cigarette/study breaks taken. Affectionately dubbed “The Rock”, the building stood wide, covered in vines, telling of papers completed between run-ins with friends, enemies, past loves.
At this, the Rock quickly became quite romantic in my mind, this large edifice devoted entirely to volumes of work, it housing knowledge and separate worlds. The musty smell of books, the turning and flapping of pages, the whispers hissed across “the stacks”, the squeaks of heels against linoleum floors, the silent hum of an air conditioning overhead, the intent of one’s gaze, so focused on the page before them. The stuff of geekdom, but you would never guess by looking at any of the Rock library’s actual dwellers.
As I observed quickly, my Brown classmates made academia chic–though many would never admit to such an injunction. To speak of fashion or style in any formalized way was far too glib. There was Derrida to discuss, Foucault to grasp, Butler to ruminate over, after all, which made for hardly any room to speak of conscious efforts to dress oneself fashionably. Style simply subsisted on that campus as an air of erudition, as a studied act of nonchalance. The look of the “slightly undone intellectual” was to appear as an organic doing of designer labels, vintage, and perfect eyewear–but it hardly ever was.
Take a dear friend of mine who would come wafting into the library wrapped in billowing Yohji Yamamato harem sweats, several cashmere scarves swaddled around her neck, and Stella McCartney for Adidas flats bound to her feet. Always ahead of the style curve, this was her idea of “study attire”, while her class ensembles consisted of Chloe denim jackets, motorcycle boots, and Prada sweaters. Or how about my best friend who resembled Rosario Dawson to a T: her vintage mish-mash outfits of structured blazers, extreme footwear, large jewelry, and minis always leaving Art Semiotics T.A.s defenseless to her charms.
My male friends were no better, swooping through the corridors of the Rock in A.P.C. distressed denim, ratty Supergas or Chucks, and slightly fitted threadbare tees layered under softly rumpled grandpa cardigans of Italian make. They looked as if they had just left band practice (and many had) or finished romancing a beguiling freshman (and many had). Their haircuts transformed them into perfect derivatives of young Bob Dylan’s, Robert Redford’s, or Maxwell’s; their tortoiseshell horn-rimmed glasses slightly smudged and perched low on their nose.
As much as my classmates shuddered at the thought of being seen as anything more than ‘effortless’ in dress or thought, there were conscious aims towards a stylish end. So many of them hailed from New York, Los Angeles, or abroad, that they smacked of trends and phenomenons that were light years ahead. It is perhaps why they seemed bored at the topic of fashion: they had always been within its midst, and were waiting for us all to catch up. When WWD crowned Brown “The Most Fashionable Ivy” my Junior year, I think most of my friends were curious why it had taken them so long.
It was hard, then, to avoid being completely inspired by this stylized cadre of intellectuals, especially as someone who would splurge on fashion magazines every week at the campus bookstore and truly saw the political viability of fashion. My own look evolved from prepster to hipster within semesters, I taking to the Main Green in skinny jeans, structured blazers, vintage cowboy boots, and a buoyant of curls; a Joy James book of protest and Vogue magazine tucked squarely under my arm. Disparate in philosophies, both tomes spoke to me: the book and total fashion geek.
It was a nuanced balance, of course, one that bordered on hypocrisy and shallowness, but I would look to Brown and Vogue-alum, Sally Singer, as this paradigmatic example of how it could be done. A great fashion journalist herself, with her now at the helm of T Magazine, Singer always harbored a quiet cool and maintained a keen interest in culture. Through her varied writings of travel, I saw that even while working in the industry, life extended past fashion, while equally, a world happens outside the parameters of the academy. I should constantly be living and learning about it. My future work in fashion would not preclude me from intellectual growth of any kind.
Although it has been almost seven years since I graduated from college (it’s odd to even write that), I can still be spotted within the bookstores and magazine stands of this great metropolis. Scaling the shelves for great words and works, seeking inspiration for these shoots, leaving with stacks of finds that speak to my varied interests of film, art, fashion. I’ve of course upgraded my look of “slightly undone intellectual”, as is the way of any New Yorker, preferring to pluck Japanese cotton twill suits from Steven Alan for the occasion of book shopping.
Pairing the checkered combo with a striped silk blouse, I felt the look conjured up the Southern decorum of novelist, Mark Twain, with all the panache of fashionplate/poetess, Anne Sexton. It created a great contrast of prints, the cream and navy stripes playing beautifully off one another, while the tailored peplum of the blazer molded a serious cinched waist. The pant leg hits perfectly at my ankle, reinventing the woman’s suit into something you actually enjoy wearing. In fact, as we took to the New York Public Library, Strand Bookstore, and Soho newstand to shoot this project, all of New York seemingly had to stop me to tell me how much they enjoyed the look.
It appeared I had finally found that balance of bookworm and arbiter of style I had always been grasping for. //
Scroll through the remaining images below and discover what other fashionable alums Brown has produced, along with who made the LADYPANTS Reading List.
OTHER FASHIONABLE BROWN ALUMS?
Politico, John F Kennedy Jr + Actress,Tracee Ellis Ross + Vogue Editor-at-Large, Andre Leon Talley + ELLE Fashion Editor, Nick Axelrod + Actress, Emma Watson + Actress, LeeLee Sobieski + Agent, Jen Brill + EBONY Magazine Editor-in-Chief, Amy Barnett
LADYPANTS READING LIST
Here are a few of books and publications that have been added to my ever-expanding bookshelf…
*How To Be Black, Baratunde Thurston
*The Marriage Plot, Jeffrey Eugenides
*Freedom, Jonathan Franzen
*Changing My Mind, Zadie Smith
*Irreverent, Carine Roitfeld
*New African Fashion, Helen Jennings
*Garage #2, Spring/Summer
Annette Blazer and Pants by Steven Alan + Vintage blouse + Heels by Belstaff + Tote by Isabel Marant