Leggings again? My own sentiments notwithstanding, the mirror reflects a complete lack of wardrobe flair during these dreary months. You attend the prestigious University of Toronto, which (according to President David Naylor) is the hardest school in the country to obtain an A grade. So it’s fair that your attention is on matters of academics, not acid wash, though I welcome debate on the latter. However, as Ryerson has their angsty emo and OCAD their colourful hipster, wouldn’t it be grand if U of T’s fashion identity were equally compelling?I asked a couple members of Toronto’s media glitterati (and alumnae to boot) to reminisce on their scholastic style.“I would stock up on khaki pantaloons like Anna Nicole used to stock up on meds. I haven’t worn khaki since,” reveals The National Post’s society scribe Shinan Govani, a former member of the Trinity tribe. “Preppy was my destiny. I remember a lot of loosened ties with untucked shirts—preppy, but shabby. We were all minding the Gap.”While Mr. Govani and his gaggle were tricked out in squeaky-clean Americana during Gap’s ‘90s heyday, campus darlings now abuse a different purveyor of colourful basics. “Do not dress head to toe in American Apparel,” he urges.For Poli Sci grad and PR maven Natasha Penzo, “a great pair of jeans, earthy-coloured boots, a chic cozy sweater and a great tote bag with lots of hardware,” was her go-to class getup.What did Penzo think of her campus flock? “The look was intellectual/conservative. However, because of the large portion of international students, there is also a great blend of unique styles.” Nowadays, she discusses collections with designers well before they hit the runway. “It makes you a few steps ahead of the game.”Students, even if your day is spent engrossed in chemistry as opposed to couture, consider this: “Sloppy appearance often equals sloppy performance, so do your best to appear polished and put-together for class. Don’t get me wrong, sweatpants are a necessity some days!” Penzo makes a good point.Now that we’ve heard from arbiters-about-town, let’s turn to some cinematic references and adopt their scholastic sartorialism, shall we? Confused as to where you fit in? Read on.
In The Paper Chase (1973), a first year Harvard law student falls for his Professor’s daughter. (Our campus is the carefully disguised shooting location.) The film makes two things clear: faculty-laced liaisons are tricky, and corduroy is due for a comeback. Gentlemen, take note—a corduroy blazer elevates the plaid shirt to stylishly scholastic proportions. An oversized bow tie or ascot is charming with a grandpa cardigan. Work with a library-inspired palette of butterscotch, burgundy, mustard, and slate. Experiment with this 1970s mood, but in loving memory of Jim Croce, skip the ‘stache.Underclasswomen unable to put down the Proust should turn to Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face (1957). As Jo Stockton, this reserved bookworm oozes well-read dignity. Her look is stark and simple—a beatnik mix of slim black separates with contrasting socks and smart oxfords. Add a coated canvas tote brimming with dog-eared classics.
A Revenge of the Nerds (1984) look can be made ironically chic with the right adjustments. While pants should never be worn so grossly high on guys, both ladies and lads can steal select styling tips. Button your chemise all the way, then tuck it in and belt it. Pens go in the pocket. Slip on Clark’s Wallabees’ shoes and clunky tortoiseshell spectacles—heck, wear a calculator watch. The appeal of this look lies in your irreverence. Make square your statement.
Love Story (1970) is an iconic college film. While I wholeheartedly disagree that love means never having to say you’re sorry, Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neal nail the Bostonian brand of prepster. To achieve Ali’s elegant New England manner, tuck centre-parted hair behind your ears or wear a wooly tuque. Collect belted pea coats in camel, navy, or cream, and don equestrian riding boots and a saddlebag. (Stollery’s at Yonge and Bloor is having a sale on striking Barbour messenger bags. Run!) Pair all with ribbed tights and a touch of a sandalwood scent.For Ryan’s pedigreed polish, wear sweater vests, top-siders, spiffy blazers with suede elbow patches, and timeless trenches. I can attest to the longevity of these looks—they maintain an air of privilege perfect for long days in lecture.For a West Coast take on Ivy League style, see The Graduate (1967). Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin Bradley just graduated from Berkeley and is a little lost, which explains his pieced-together suits and Anne Bancroft’s snappy seduction. I’m tempted to comment on her effective use of animal prints as the original cougar, but I’ll resist.
If you’ve considered a women-only college only to be met with looks of horror from your friends, family, and academic advisor, Mona Lisa Smile (2003) was a revelation. “Look how pretty and cunning they all are!” you cried out at the screen. While the ladies of 1950s Wellesley are overly coiffed and attired for today’s campus, their sense of fashion decorum is well within reach. Vintage stores, charity shops, and consignment boutiques are prime sources for ladylike tweed jackets, silk scarves, and flirty skirts. Commit to retro red lips or pin curls with diligence. While this style is unabashed, keep your husband-hunting antics under wraps. Boys, a whole world of thrifty goodness awaits at your nearest vintage emporium. You might not be inclined to digging through shops (surprising given your evolutionary role as hunters), but take a gander. Something secondhand will infuse all bland ensembles with character.