By Elizabeth Kerin
EK: How do you feel that your style expresses who you are?
JM: I think fashion is more than self-expression; it’s also about conformity. As Georg Simmel pointed out, fashion has a dialectical structure wherein the two opposing and inseparable human drives of imitation and differentiation work themselves out in a sartorial system of signs through color, pattern, texture, shape and design. Fashion is therefore a symbolic activity through which we express both our solidarity with others and our personal autonomy.
EK: Do you consider fashion to be important? If yes, in what ways?
JM: Yes, fashion is important, but it is perhaps better to say that it is significant. As a sartorial system of signs, fashion indicates, or points to, the value we place on ourselves, others, spaces and/or events. For example, we indicate the importance of the Mass by wearing clothing that is appropriate to the event. We orient ourselves through our clothing — an insight that is captured in the phrases “dressing up” and “dressing down.” We also indicate or sign to others what we esteem or value. For these reasons, fashion is significant.
EK: How does being a professor change your approach to fashion? Are there any challenges in reconciling your personal style with how a UD professor is expected to dress?
JM: I value what we do in the classroom at UD, and I have followed the example of my own teachers and mentors who always dignified the classroom and the work we did there by dressing well for class. Like Machiavelli, who took off his work clothes each evening while in exile and donned his best robes before entering his study to read Dante and Plutarch, I think it is important to “dress up” for class. Hopefully, I signify the value I place on learning through my attire.
EK: Do you have any commentary on how students at the University of Dallas dress?
JM: It is clear that a portion of the student body has enthusiastically embraced the conventional fast-fashion with its ephemeral fads, but other students, being so enamored of the beauty they encounter through UD’s exceptional curriculum, have adopted a more elegant mode of dress that expresses their elevated values and tastes. However, there is also a strange antagonism to fashion among some students at UD who seem to view fashion as Kant did — as mere vanity. This is indeed strange because fashion is a way of ordering oneself in clothes, and order is a central theme in the UD curriculum. We train students to order their thoughts – logic, order their language – rhetoric, order their actions – ethics, recognize the order of the universe – physics, and contemplate the source of this order – theology. No one would ever claim that any of these activities were mere vanity. Thinking well, speaking well and living well are all the result of the intentional development, elevation and perfection of the human intellect and will, an ordering of human capacities towards excellence. This is nothing more than elegance, which, as the Romans knew, meant the capacity to choose well. José Ortega y Gasset put it like this: “Elegant is the man who neither does nor says any old thing, but instead does what should be done and says what should be said.” On the whole, I think UD students exhibit a rare elegance.