Mall à la Mode

Bridget Safranek, Contributing Writer

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Photo by Elizabeth Kerin.

Name: Dr. Susan Hanssen
Department: History

BS: Who inspires your fashion sense?
SH: My Irish grandmother, Grandma Fran. She was a lady who knew the power of pearls, heels and complete and total self-giving. She would never leave the house in a state of un-dress — even though, as she’d say, “we were never lace-curtain Irish,” we were “cross-the-tracks Irish.”

BS: What is your opinion of Mall à la Mode?
SH: I don’t like the attention to clothes. I think clothes are very important, but they shouldn’t be discussed, kind of like wallpaper. They set a certain ethos, but if you talk about ethos all the time, then ethos doesn’t work. I saw it a little bit as part of a shift in [University of Dallas] culture, from being made up of students from poorer backgrounds and [who] were sort of eccentrically brilliant in some particular way … to a UD having a lot more students who are upper middle class from prep schools who have money to spend on clothes. It represented a change in the ethos of the school … when the column appeared.

BS: How would you describe the UD Look?
SH: I think that UD students are eccentric and have a sense of style. I think that guys dress a little bit more dignified than you would see them elsewhere and women dress a little bit more feminine than you would see them dress elsewhere. I think that there’s simply a kind of step up in their sense of themselves, that they’re not children, and they’re not just living for comfort and sports. If you’re not thinking of yourself as a grown up child who is still playing all the time or watching television all the time … you start to dress in accord with what you are doing all the time. We have more friendship, we have more conversation, we have more reading. And somehow, I think the way people dress reflects that, oddly enough.

BS: What do you think of fashion as being individualistic?
SH: I think that people are individual. So, besides being individual, people are also human, or women, or a professor, or a student. And so, I think that your dress should express who you are, and some of who you are is individual, and some of who you are belongs to a certain genre. I think that trying to stand out more, sort of declaring a sort of individuality which is beyond the true is a kind of frivolity. Are we not engaged in a common project? Are there not certain social responsibilities that are common to us all? I don’t need to be that different. But I am individual and I want my dress to reflect my individuality. But some of that individual is given to me: the fact that I am a women is given to me, the fact that I don’t have the option … My individuality has also been given to me to work with, it’s not an invention, it’s something that I have to harmonize with who I am and what social responsibilities I’ve been given.

BS: If you could work for any other department, what department would you work for? And if you could get another Ph.D., what would you study?
SH: If I could work for another department, I would work for philosophy if they would take me. Politics if philosophy wouldn’t have me. And if I had to go back and get another degree, I would get it in classics.

BS: What is a piece of advice that you’ve always kept in mind?
SH: I think it’s from Audrey Hepburn, that your clothes should be fitting enough that they know you’re a woman but loose enough that they know you’re a lady. I like that quote. The piece of advice that I think that is very important is for an interview, yes, heels. Heels change the whole balance of your posture and therefore how you think of yourself. But people do need to learn how to walk in heels.

BS: How do you see Italy affect the students, both in character and in look?
SH: It teaches them the value of a few great basics, for one thing. The fact that it ups the number of people who wear scarves, which might account for why UD looks different from the rest of Texas. And I think that you can’t have the kind of photographs on your walls in Old Mill without it doing something to your sense of proportion. The pre-Raphaelite head, the well-proportioned Bernini statue, even your sense of color. It’s not possible that you can have those sorts of photographs and those kinds of pictures, to know that art and have it do absolutely nothing to your sense of what is beautiful. Doesn’t that seem technically impossible?

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