Dawgs with Style: Dr. Cynthia Chen

Dr. Chen sports a plaid vest, her favorite category of clothing, to create an aura of academia. Photo by Faith Delamarter

JACK WILLIAMS | STAFF REPORTER | Jrwilliams@butler.edu 

College fashion is constantly shifting in order to accommodate function, follow trends in form and reflect the changing nature of the world that students live in. Here on Butler’s campus, students are finding new ways to merge their leisure time with their professional life. Read on to discover the next of our Dawgs with Style through a Q&A style interview

Assistant professor of sports media Dr. Cynthia Chen dresses in simple, professional outfits that complement her identity as an academic. She uses a wardrobe of reliable pieces such as vests to experiment with different combinations of clothing. Chen sat down with the Collegian to reflect on the ways her style has changed over the years and how she learned to dress for herself before anyone else. 

THE BUTLER COLLEGIAN: How would you describe your personal style? 

CYNTHIA CHEN: I just learned about effortless chic. I don’t think I’m that fancy, but I [would describe] my mentality as simple and comfortable. I want to make it stress-free when I pick out my outfit, [whether I’m] coming to a class or going out. I also want to [dress] like I read a lot of books. I grew up two years younger than my fellow classmates in my [class]. I felt a need to establish myself as being someone smart, so [that] whenever I say something, people actually listen to me. The second part is that when I moved here to Indianapolis, people asked me [what I did]. I would say that I’m a professor at Butler University, and they’d say “Oh you don’t look like a professor.” So I felt the pressure to look a little bit more professor-ish. You have to build up an identity first, and then we fit into that identity [and think] “Oh that makes me look a little better.” 

Dr. Chen prioritizes professionalism, simplicity and comfort in her style. Photo by Faith Delamarter

TBC: What elements of clothing lend themselves to a professorial or academic style? 

CC: I think one of the items that really stands out is a vest like Chandler in “Friends”, right? He has a lot of vests. [They give] me the feeling of academia or a writer’s look. I’m constantly wearing them, and I think [they’re] easy to match with other clothing. It’s a fun look, [and] it makes things more interesting. 

TBC: How has your style evolved or changed over the years? 

CC: I really started paying attention to what I wore [during] my sophomore year in college, and then I started trying on different things. I got more compliments. Then, when I went to grad school in China, I had an academic advisor [who] I met with maybe three times a week. She had a huge impact on how I dress because she’s very beautiful in a way that everyone who interacts with her [noticed]. I realized [that] whenever she had a major public-facing event, she dressed up more. My interpretation is that she’s using beauty as her weapon. I think she got more things done [and it was] easier for her to persuade people to join her effort [due to her style]. So, I got a sense that this is something you can use. 

That was a period [where] I definitely wanted to be intentional in dressing up. My friend also joked back then that the more dressed up I was or the more makeup I wore, the more [she knew that] internally I was screaming, trying to get something done. Then I moved to the United States to pursue my doctoral studies. I think [the U.S.] has a different style. I feel like in China or at least East Asia, you have to look [a certain way] to be beautiful. But in the U.S. there are so many different definitions of beautiful. I started caring less about what people say. [Style] is about who I am — not who I should be. I shouldn’t be defined by how I look or what I choose to wear. [I don’t want to give other people] so much power that their opinion of how I look defines my mood, defines my emotions [or] defines how I feel about myself. 

Dr. Chen used to feel pressure to wear jewelry and accessories, but she has since become more comfortable without them. Now, she views jewelry as a fun addition to her outfit. Photo by Faith Delamarter

TBC: Is there a particular season of the year that you enjoy dressing for the most? 

CC: I’m definitely a summer person. In spring and fall, I always get a little confused; the [seasonal] changes make me unsure about what [I should] wear, and the temperature change adds to it. In summer, I get to shake off the professorial look and experiment more. You get more options for cheaper, [and] it’s easy to buy dresses. 

Dr. Chen accentuates her outfit with a beautiful floral ring. Photo by Faith Delamarter

TBC: Do you have any favorite stores to shop at? 

CC: Really, I go everywhere. I probably still have a $5 T-shirt from Walmart [from] when I first moved here and we went to get all the essential products. [I buy] some of the brands [that are] popular among my co-workers, either professors or students. 

On Chinese social media, there was a wave called “the ultimate fashion is Target.” So, I have some things from Target too. 

TBC: Do you have any advice for people struggling to find their own sense of style? 

CC: The practical advice is to buy something of really [high] quality [that] you really like. Then you can match this particular item with different things and experiment from there. A lot of times we think that the more clothes you have or the more expensive something is, the better it will be. But my experience is that’s [not true]. It’s about the quality or durability of the material [and] how you see yourself in this clothing. 

[Style is] about finding yourself. I still struggle sometimes if I have a setback at work, or maybe a bad day teaching [where] I didn’t do as well as I expected. That week if I go out or I try to buy clothing, I can’t find the inspiration. But whenever I feel good about myself, it’s so easy. The more self-assured I am, the easier it’s been for me to pick out what I want to wear. 

I realize [style] is also about self-acceptance. There are clothes that I really love, and I still wear some things from college, [but] I’m realizing I don’t look too good in them anymore. My body changes. That’s okay. That’s part of life. And I’m still me, not defined by how I look.

 For Dr. Chen, style is an act of self-acceptance as well as a social statement. Photo by Faith Delamarter


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