Style@ERG: Snapshots of ERG's Best Dressed

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[Salma Elmallah, ERG graduate student]

While home in Canada last winter break, a friend asked me, “So how glamorous is California?” My immediate response was that glamour is not a Northern Californian concept, unless your definition somehow includes hiking boots. 

When I returned to Berkeley that January, though, I started noticing hints of glamour amid the usual uniform of Patagonia and Birkenstocks. I began having conversations with the ERG community and gaining appreciation for a distinct look that is tied deeply to their homes, families, and travels. Glamour is hard to achieve in grad school, but our fashion choices can still be thoughtful and personalized, as shown by the stories and looks from some of ERG’s style icons profiled in this post. 

Noah Kittner, freshly minted PhD

I caught up with Noah at the 2018 ERG Talent Show, where he was a guest of honour after having completed his exit talk earlier that afternoon. Noah is always well- and distinctively dressed (ask him about his notorious leather jacket), but this night he had upped his style game for the special occasion. He showed up to Anthony Hall in a suit and white shirt combo sprinkled with subtle details.

Noah and his fans.

Noah’s black leather loafers arrived with him in Berkeley from North Carolina, where they once belonged to his grandpa. His white cotton shirt was woven in Thailand, where Noah had completed a Fulbright fellowship. Here, he’s wearing a wool jacket and pants that he thinks are made from a synthetic blend. He tells me that they’re great for ventilation in the heat, but are “probably not good for the environment.”

Noah’s shoes, passed down from his grandpa.

Isha Ray, core faculty member

A (non-exhaustive) list of well-dressed ERGies would not be complete without Professor Isha Ray, one of ERGs first style icons. I caught up with Isha at the ERG graduation ceremony, but I still have hopes of capturing her everyday-look one day in an office photoshoot. Isha’s confident style underpinned by vibrant colour palettes shone through even in the traditional faculty regalia.

Isha Ray at the ERG graduation ceremony.

Isha had fixed her stole to her robe with a delicate, fanned gold brooch. She had tried the safety pin life at earlier graduations, but decided it was not for her. The ruby in the brooch had belonged to her grandmother and was part of a set that included a now-lost pair of earrings. Isha had the remaining stone set in goldwork in Toledo, Spain. I ask if her earrings also contain her grandmother’s rubies, but she tells me that they’re fake - she’s just committed to red accessories that tie back to Stanford, her alma mater, colours.

Gauthami Penakalapti, incoming twobie

Within her cohort, Gauthami is known as the queen of thrifting and statement accessories. This summer, she’s doing fieldwork in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, from where she shares her breezy fashion with us:

“In this photo, I'm about to head to my first day of field work. The kurta --the yellow piece-- has a wonderful history. I stayed with my folks in Atlanta prior to departing for my summer field work, and as I was picking through my Indian clothes, I came across this kurta. There are so many photos of me wearing this as a teenager and a couple of them are even framed. My mother bought the fabric and got it tailored for me in Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh when we were visiting my father's family in 2001. I'm surprised it fits and is in still such great condition after so many years! The pants and kurta are both cotton and loose to keep me cool in this muggy and sweltering Lucknow heat. It rained this particular morning, so I wore my Keens in case we came across mud or puddles during out field visit. These Keens have also seen many miles and countries, and they're basically a staple when I travel. The colorful scarf, or chunni, was originally meant for modesty and is still used in that manner, but I'm using it as a multi-purpose fashion statement, shade-provider, fly swatter, and in extreme circumstances, hand towel.” 

I’ve always been convinced that clothing is both personal and political, and is the most direct, intimate way that we present ourselves to the world. It’s fascinating to talk to people about what they’re wearing (even if that happens to be Patagonia or Birkenstocks, which I have been known to wear myself). Thanks to Noah, Isha, and Gauthami, three of ERG’s many well-dressed, for sharing their outfits and stories of how they connect to their clothes.

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