Believe it or not, your geography teacher was cool. And your history teacher, and maths teacher, and any other middle-aged teacher that still believed it was 1973 with a comb-over that stated otherwise. Okay, so maybe the comb-over will never be cool – but judging by recent previews, that university professor look is an image to be reckoned with.
Fashion headmasters Gucci, Lavin, Salvatore Ferragamo and Roberto Cavalli have all embraced and modernised familiar 1970s tailoring recently, whilst the high street has supplemented this with certain lecturer-esque features that are no longer limited to dusty classrooms and fusty offices. There’s nothing wrong with a little vintage back-catalogue for some style inspiration, and therein lies the key to striking that fine balance between on-trend modern and simple fancy dress territory – don’t go overboard.
Check out the modernised professor look sported on the AW11 and SS12 runways of Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo, Burberry, Hermes, Diesel Black Gold and Dries Van Noten:
Textures and materials are extremely prominent this season, with large-lapel suits constructed of velvet, tweed and wool. Don’t be afraid to experiment with fabrics normally associated with Austin Powers – a sprinkling of those mentioned is fine, but like most things considered statement, do so in moderation. A three-piece maroon velvet suit is a very difficult look for even the coolest of our kind to pull off; use old academics as style encouragement as opposed to sheer mimicry.
As for colour, stick to the darker shades. Mustard, navy, grey, brown and especially burnt orange (very popular this season) are fantastic for bringing in a little vibrancy in these chillier months without pushing the summer-associated boundaries.
Before we progress any further, take a look at some recent editorials, lookbooks and campaigns that epitomise the look and put the contemporary spin on it we desire:
The ideal blazer is fitted – but not overtly so. Skinny mod structures are reserved for the 60s only, and perfecting professor chic is a fine art. It’s all about the cut, fit and shape. Trousers, again, are straight-legged and tailored – usually grazing the ankle to give a peep of colour clashing sock choice.
Separate parts of any suit are not simply limited to formal occasions, however. More and more often these days, tailored pieces are assimilated into everyday casual wear, usually toned down by a plain shirt, no tie or simple loafers. Pieces from your schoolteacher look are therefore entirely useful for extra revision in other outfit choices, and there’s no harm in mixing and matching.
But what about those pieces underneath? Layering cardigans and jumpers over rigid, plain shirts is the ultimate in practical preppy; primary colours are perfect for the colour-blocking trend and can also brighten up the darker shades of tailoring this season. Your usual vintage shops will stock the crème de la crème of nerdy woollen wear, and second-hand is definitely your friend in this department.
Try mixing it up a little with the turtleneck, which saw a massive resurgence in last years AW11 shows and looks set to continue into SS12 (albeit in slightly lighter weight materials). A piece emblematic of 70s retro loungewear, a high neck is effortlessly chic and makes references to the style gods of old – Frank Sinatra, Alain Delon and Robert Redford.
Any great suit is defined by those finishing touches. To get full marks on your professor look, make some informed tie decisions when putting your outfit together. Bow ties are the most obvious (and effective) choice, and they’re becoming a popular and welcome alternative to the skinny tie that has dominated the high street for some years now.
Whether patterned or plain, large or modest, the bow tie is every inch the biology boffin but extremely sharp when worn correctly. With this in mind, always attempt subtlety when teaming with a suit. If your main colour is quite a loud hue then tone it down on the neckwear, and vice versa. Perfecting any look is all about balance, and these areas are no different.
Bow ties may seem too much of a bold move for some, and for those who this applies, thick-knotted regular ties are of course acceptable. Other alternatives could be the cravat (endlessly pioneered by Hermés and Canali) or indeed, nothing at all. Just make sure accessories look effortless and understated. Typical lecturer garb is all about a regular, fine-tuned finish that is routine and second-nature, rather than endlessly pondered over and perfected. My ethos: when in doubt, keep it simple.
With regard to individual pieces, the devil really is in the detail. Woollen jumpers that are ideal for the February ice-threat are accentuated with leather elbow patches, and buttons are often large, practical and dark. Throw in a decent pocket-square, and you’re almost there.
If you’re lucky (or unlucky, depending on how you view it) to wear glasses, then switch to Wayfarer or oval-shaped frames to truly look every inch the intellectual style genius. I’ve never condoned spectacles that are simply for fashion purposes on the sacred grounds of ‘trying-too-hard’ (probably bitterness at my own perfect 20:20 vision), however, go that extra mile to top off the appearance. It’s the final push into the A* threshold.
So now, before assuming that the well-suited, middle-aged, bookish-looking fellow opposite you on the train or bus is a nerd, just remember: this season, he’s cooler than you think.
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