As someone who lives in a country with only two barely-distinguishable seasons (humidity, humidity with rainfall), I have zero time for anyone who complains about having four distinct seasons, as well as the accompanying promise of seasonal festivities, produce, and wardrobe updates. But despite being an equal-rights advocate for all seasons, I do empathize with the collective resentment directed towards the 2 months of post-New Years winter. Drab and despondent, with no more festivities to look forward to, Bad Winter leaves us with little cause for excitement or joy – or so we think.
Clothes have, scientifically and in my real-life experience, proven to improve our mood, mindset and overall disposition. And winter is arguably the best season for clothes, owing to the fact that you can wear so many all at the same time. But even layering, with its myriad possibilities and potential, can feel uninspired after a few months. Enter White Men In Academia, or WMIA for short.
Kings of pretending not to care about how they look, WMIA display a sense of confidence and entitlement in all parts of their lives – including dressing – that give off the impression that they know exactly what they’re doing, whether or not that’s true. Frustrating and undeserving as they may be, these men wear outfits that are seemingly straightforward (a striped scarf when it’s windy out) but that, upon closer inspection, are a very carefully crafted reflection – too subtle to be crass but clear enough to be picked up by the trained eye – of their superior intellect or social status (a crimson and white striped Harvard scarf when it’s windy out). And while not all WMIA are bad or boring dressers, they are walking, talking, Winston Churchill-quoting proof that simply believing that what you’re wearing is impressive and different and noteworthy may just make it so.
To save you the trouble of having to drive to the nearest Ivy League to observe them in their natural habitat, I have compiled below a list of the best-dressed WMIA as immortalized in film. Many of these outfits are genuinely good, but they are elevated to ‘great’ simply by the sheer force of the wearer’s belief that they are so. The outfits, in fact, are only marginally important. In our pursuit of Bad Winter wardrobe inspiration, as in most situations, confidence is key.
Sweet, But Probably a Republican (Love Story, 1970)
Because simply attending Harvard is for basics, Oliver Barrett IV also has a building there named after his grandfather. Quick-witted and charming, Oliver is, for the most part, embarrassed by his family’s wealth and eventually rebels from their rigid expectations of him – although you’d never know this by the way he dresses. Full of perfectly tailored neutrals and a lot of plaid, Oliver’s wardrobe is a constant reminder of his lineage. The genius of this particular turtleneck-and-plaid combination, however, is not that it makes him look rich. It’s the wearing of colors very closely associated with fall in the winter, thus defying season-specific color palettes and warming up the film’s bleak winter setting.
Man-Child (When Harry Met Sally, 1989)
Harry is not technically in academia, but he’s just graduated from university when the film begins, which is good enough. Despite being insufferable and pretty badly dressed for most of the film, this one outfit is Harry’s saving grace. It is excellent: his one great love (light wash jeans) plus white sneakers plus a very, very good sweater – crisp, stainless, comfy, slouchy. Well done, Harry. This movie is still a waste of time, though.
Boston Therapist (Good Will Hunting, 1997)
The nicest man on this list, all Dr. Sean Maguire wants is for Matt Damon to get his shit together and be nice to Minnie Driver. A psychology professor, Maguire is impossibly wise and all-seeing, which is why I was surprised when he wore this cardigan. As far as cardigans go, this is perhaps not the best one you could pick (it’s the worst), although it is probably Maguire’s one and only flaw. I do, however, love the flat cap and corduroy pants. Corduroy in general is an underused textile. Put it on everything!
Scumbag Intellectual (Mona Lisa Smile, 2003)
I’ve always wondered what this style of sweater collar was called, so I Googled it and found out it was called a ‘shawl collar’, and then I wished I hadn’t checked in the first place. Name aside, there’s something about sweaters like these that make their wearers seem safe, the kind of man who waits until you’re inside your house before he drives away. A dangerous illusion, seeing as the wearer in question slept with a bunch of his students and lied about fighting in World War II, but a powerful one nonetheless.
Only Owns 0.03% of Facebook (The Social Network, 2010)
Lastly, a power ensemble. I realize that this one is really pretty basic, and that black-on-black isn’t a groundbreaking move, but I love it nevertheless. Maybe it’s the aggressive unbuttoning of the shirt’s top buttons, or that he looks so angry, or that Eduardo, like me, can’t stand Justin Timberlake. Powerwalking into Facebook HQ, smashing your ex-best-friend’s computer, telling him you’re “coming for everything” – all great, fun things that only white men could get away with. And while the rest of us are exempt from such privileges, there’s nothing stopping us from dressing like we’re entitled to them.