People, Profiles

Extremism, in the name of fashion, is her advice

Getting dressed is a daily adventure for überstylish undergraduate adviser Jane Paris. The College of Letters and Science staffer writes about each new fashion statement in her blog, "What I Wore Today."

Some dress for success, some for comfort or conformity. But why dress in a bland way in a world full of texture, pattern and color, of denim-and-chiffon skirts, tooled leather belts, green fishnet leggings and ice-cube-shaped jewelry?

That’s advice for living from überstylish Jane Paris, an undergraduate adviser in the College of Letters and Science (L&S) and author of the daily fashion blog “What I Wore Today.”

“I’ve been wanting to wear this furry vest for a while, so here is my effort.  My husband said I look like Sonny Bono.  Not a compliment,” Paris blogged one evening, of a vest that began as the lining of an Andrew Marc coat — complemented by a leopard-patterned hat, ’80s boots and ’70s glasses.

On another, Paris describes, and posts photos of, a “dress that has it all” — meaning her favorite color combination, blue and green, and a runner-up, black and white: “Its black print throughout reminds me of both an Etch-a-Sketch and that spiro-graph thing.”

The centerpiece of a third outfit: a white top reading “Love Will Tear Us Apart” in big black letters. “It’s interesting,” writes Paris, “to think about the sociocultural path of this lyric from 1979 landing on this T-shirt in the mall.”

She got an early start as a fashionista, playing dress-up in “fabulous ’50s and ’60s cocktail dresses” as a child. Once she began earning babysitting money as a teen, her obsession “progressed from there.” In college and well into her 20s, she haunted thrift stores, worked in boutiques and began greeting each day in a different “groovy vintage” outfit calibrated to her mood.

Today, as a 40-something academic adviser, Paris’s sense of style “is extreme for my demographic,” she admits, and has its own demands. As a mother of two young children, it’s become imperative to lay out Tuesday’s work outfit after the kids are in bed Monday evening. First she decides on the main piece (often a dress or skirt and jacket discovered on a thrifting expedition). Then — from well-organized trays stored under the bed — she accessorizes.

Jane Paris

Jane Paris in classic leopard dress, Eiffel Tower earrings and pool-table-shade nails, outside McLaughlin Hall. (Photo by Sonya)

“It’s a system that’s taken a long time to develop,” Paris notes. With some 50 necklaces and 100 pairs each of earrings and bracelets to choose from, “retrieval is very important.”

Fashion, to Paris, is a means of self-expression and a “way to decorate one’s body” in a world in need of more decoration.

Having worked at other college campuses — including Miami University, in Ohio, where she taught a course on second-hand clothing and postmodern dress — Paris is struck by Berkeley students’ preference for Cal wear and super-casual jeans and T-shirts. “It really stands out,” she says, “when students experiment with style or make a non-mainstream statement” via their attire.

Undergrads “seem pretty focused on what they come to this office for,” she adds. “They don’t comment too much on my clothes.”

But friends and L&S colleagues regularly do. It was with their encouragement that she started “What I Wore Today” in early 2011, and, with their assistance as photographers, that she captures each outfit, in a different campus setting, for her blog.

“I’m pretty committed to it,” says Paris. Her only misgiving: that she didn’t start sooner to document her daily inventions. “Having the blog,” she admits, “makes me regret all the outfits I didn’t get pictures of.”

A tip on searching on “What I Wore Today”: from the bottom of the right-hand box, click on “archive,” then click on any look; blog posts are organized by month.