This week, we meet Stylish Academic, Melissa Chaplin.
In this quick chat, she talks about how fashion intersects with academia in her professional life.
Who is Melissa Chaplin?
Currently, I’m coming towards the end of my Ph.D. in intercultural communication at Durham University in the UK.
Although my university is in the North of England, I’m based in central London.
Outside of academia, I love pop-culture, feminism, and fashion.
I’m passionate about developments in the fashion world and how academics from different fields can bring fresh perspectives to the industry.
I’m keen to connect with anyone who is interested in the intersection between academia and fashion, or in feminist approaches to the fashion world.
Take us with you on your journey into academia. Is this what Melissa Chaplin has always wanted to do?
I always thought I would like to do a Ph.D. at some point, but as is often the case with career moves it was partially a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
I was asked to apply for my scholarship after having done some research assistant work one summer, between jobs teaching English in secondary school.
I have been so fortunate to be part of the Researching Multilingually at Borders project, which has enabled me to take a more holistic view of research than if I had been more bound by the traditional structures of an individual discipline.
Being part of a cross-disciplinary project has given me insight into different ways of exploring a topic.
In particular, I have loved being part of a project that centres the role of the arts in research.
Melissa, what’s your interpretation of “style” as an academic researcher?
My ideas of style have developed over the course of my Ph.D.
Initially, I perceived style as the absence of errors, putting together outfits that “look right”.
I’m glad to say I’ve broadened this definition significantly since then.
Now I consider style to be dressing in a way that makes a deliberate statement.
I like to choose pieces that are talking points, that have stories behind them.
I’m passionate about promoting the work of independent designers, particularly those with strong ethical and sustainable business models.
I regularly attend Wolf and Badger’s Sustainability Sunday events in Mayfair, which is a fantastic way to discover new brands.
I also look to boutiques like Baar and Bass to find interesting and unusual pieces.
Where possible, I love to buy from designers I know personally, as I find this makes the pieces more meaningful.
I have two pairs of earrings made by the exceptionally talented Vicki Sarge, who has been featured in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar for her eclectic costume jewelry.
They continue to bring me joy whenever I wear them!
The idea that it is frivolous to embrace style as an academic…?
Fashion is an industry that has a huge impact on our lives and the lives of many others, and to dismiss it is intellectually lazy.
As a feminist, I am troubled by the way that the skills and arts that have been traditionally practiced and embraced by women are frequently written off as frivolous and shallow, and I include dressmaking and styling clothing in this category.
I would advise anyone who feels that fashion and clothing are not worth time and energy to read the first chapter of Daniel Miller’s excellent book, Stuff, which is called ‘Why clothing is not superficial’.
Moreover, I would invite them to investigate the thoughtful, compassionate work of the team at Birdsong London, who demonstrate what a difference applying feminist principles to clothing manufacture and marketing can make.
I won’t claim to be a perfect consumer by any stretch.
I have things in my wardrobe I’m sure were made in abominable conditions and in ways that damage the planet.
I do think though that I owe it to the world to at least make a bit of an effort to express my values through the clothes I wear.
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Header photo by Dhyamis Kleber