Eye on Miami is a new series profiling Miami's stylish professors!
Style is a language – and Miami University English professor Cathy Wagner is fluent in it.
As a traveling poet, she used to give readings of her own writing to crowds of fellow artists across the country. It exposed her to various new fashions, inspired by arguably the most hip people around.
She experimented with everything, from rips head-to-toe to her favorite antique leather weightlifting belt. Eventually, she learned to express herself and curate her aesthetic.
It involved plenty of thrifting.
“I don’t really have as much time to thrift anymore, but I used to love it,” Wagner said. “I still love getting used clothes though because you can put unique things together in a new way.”
Before starting as a professor, she lacked the money to spend in most other places. Now, she empathizes with those who struggle to afford.
“There’s so many things that intersect in the decisions you make, like how much money you have and issues of class,” Wagner said. “It takes a certain amount of privilege to really be eccentric on purpose and be welcomed and celebrated.”
She also understands the feeling of pressure to assimilate to costly trends, so she limits herself to more professional creative choices during her service in the union effort and on Associated Student Government’s (ASG) Senate.
“When I was just a poet in the English department, I could be a little wack,” Wagner said. “Now I try to make folks at large feel comfortable with what I look like and not alienate them with my fashion. You need to think about audience and purpose.”
But even long before her time at Miami, Wagner had already started to aspire to the world of fashion by observing a personal icon of hers who walked the hallways of her high school, Millie Bently.
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Bently, a year older, astonished Wagner with her flash-dancey apparel, flowered long-johns and a wrist full of bangles back in 1985. One time while visiting Bently’s house, Wagner practically waded through clothes on the floor and heard about her new favorite spot to shop.
“I asked her how she had so many clothes and she told me she went to the veteran’s store, so at that point my younger sister and I started going and got really interested,” Wagner said. “In those days, thrifting was so much better. The clothes were high quality.”
Since settling into her adult life at Miami, she often notices students succumbing to the common ‘college’ look, sporting only campus merch. Early in her career, one even admitted to her that ‘it’s one of the only things allowed.’
In true English professor fashion, Wagner encourages students and everyone else to portray themselves in their best image first.
“Wear what makes you feel most authentic,” Wagner said. “That’s the bottom line.”