Occupation: Assistant professor of literature at MIT; among other areas of interest, she studies fashion in literature and has designed a class that examines the topic
Can you talk about your course, “Elements of Style’’? It examines two things: We look at novels that talk about style or how a person dresses and how that connects to their identity, but we’re also interested in literary styles and how authors set themselves apart through how they write. We actually start with the Strunk and White “Elements of Style’’ text. I think with both fashion and grammar, there are these clear-cut rules and people get into huge arguments over what is right and what is wrong, and I think that’s such a fascinating connection between two things that we normally would not put together. But I think what the students really enjoy is reading texts that we just think of as really amazing literary pieces, like “The Great Gatsby’’ or “The House of Mirth,’’ and then thinking about the style of these signature characters.
You mentioned that the dress of literary characters connects to their identity. Do you see that in yourself? I used to think about it, if I had to define my style what would it be? And I’ve always come up with preppy bohemian, which sounds a little strange, but I think what it reflects in me is someone who always likes to be appropriate in my outfits but I also like them to have a little flair or whimsy about them, something that sets me apart.
Do you draw on any literary characters for style inspiration? I am in love with Lily Bart [heroine of Edith Wharton’s “The House of Mirth’’]. I don’t think the way that I dress is like her, but I just love how she’s described as being very refreshing to look at. (Laughs.) I guess that’s what I would aspire to, something that someone would lay their eyes on and be enjoyable to see. But I think I’m more inspired by literary movements, like I love thinking about the Harlem Renaissance literary movement and the kinds of clothes that women were wearing then. It’s really appealing to me. It’s not literature, but I love “Mad Men.’’ Again, it’s really about how appropriately dressed everyone is in the show, but they still have their own personal style.
Do you have a particular signature piece? I think they change each year. Right now, the skirt I wore in the photo is my favorite. I love how it’s your basic pencil skirt but it shines. I guess my signature piece would be something that shines, I love things that shine. I don’t like bling, but I like shine.