Tucked away in Office Building 1 on Wintergreen Avenue, there is an amazing Integrated Communications and Marketing team with a cool and very-laid back web administrator on staff, Jian Chan. You might miss him if you rarely venture out of the Academic Quad, and that would be a shame: his style is just the bit of eye candy needed on a dreary day full of long classes and even longer meetings. Motivated by the aesthetics of musicians and characters in anime video games, Chan is a dope grayscale minimalist from the neck down. From the neck up, he “WOWs,” and that balance is just what he aspires to.
Carter-David: Today we are here interviewing Jian Chan. Jian, could you just give us your title here at Southern?
Chan: I am the webmaster at Southern Connecticut State University. I work at the Integrated Communications and Marketing Department over at Institutional Advancements.
Carter-David: All right, thank you Jian. As you know, we’re doing this project, “Southern Styles,” bringing together students, faculty, staff, administrators, a range of folks who just have great style and who bring an aesthetic “something.” It’s a different kind of “something” in regard to what we usually do here at Southern, and you’re actually a part of the project because you are the webmaster here. So, you’re a subject, but then also part of it.
Chan: Happy to be a part of it.
Carter-David: So, I guess the first place we’ll start is, how would you describe your style?
Chan: I like to wear very grayscale colors, mainly black. I feel that’s the cleanest color that I can wear. I don’t wear logos. I don’t wear patterns. It’s almost minimalistic, in a sense. I don’t do a lot of colors; just a very small range of colors. If I wear colors it’s usually just a pop of color somewhere, and it matches my hair color, my eye color. It’s all just one thing. That’s usually what I go with.
I usually try to take something that exists and add a little bit more to it. For example, I might be wearing a jacket for work, like a blazer, but I might wear a red cardigan directly underneath it, where the colors would flow below the jacket. So just a little pop of color there. But with colors, I’m not very complicated, I don’t think. I generally stick with black; black shoes, black pants, black shirt, and I’ll wear gray as well. I try to stick with the grayscale.
When I was very young, I used to wear all colors, completely the opposite of who I am now. I wore the brightest yellows, brightest reds, brightest blues. I had a flannel shirt that was heavy in patterns, that was my thing. I used to wear hats. There was not a day in high school I did not wear a hat. That was my thing back in high school.
Sometime along my life I made the change, but back in my earlier days, my look was completely different. Very colorful. Not what I am right now.
Carter-David: Right, not the gray scale?
Chan: No, not the gray scale.
Carter-David: Would you say that your style falls in line with any known or established style communities?
Chan: It’s hard to say. I would say [my style is] probably more in line with a musician, like a rock musician, I would say. Personally, I’m working on an EP right now, so part of the style reflects who I am as a musician as well.
I’m identifying myself as a musician in that respect. Part of my style that people would notice first is my hair. It’s spiky, it’s different. I cut it. I have it cut in a way that you don’t see very much around here. With that, I have my influences from gaming and anime.
By gaming, I’m referring to Square Enix, RPGs, mainly from Final Fantasy. My hairstyle is completely influenced by that, and I have all the action figures on my desk too.
Carter-David: Which I guess leads me to my next question. I think we could look at gaming. We could think about institutions, but, in general, what are some of your style influences? We can talk about individuals as well. You mentioned the rock musician aesthetic, but can we talk about people in particular, or even characters in particular? I know very little about gaming.
Chan: It would be a character. Actually, my influences aren’t from real people. It’s mainly artistic works of others, collective artistic entities, so in this case, I actually have two main influences in terms of my hairstyle. One being Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy VII. I had this hairstyle for a long time.
The way it works is, it’s spiky all around, but it’s in two parts. There’s a front half and there’s a back half. The back half kind of forms into this cone that goes all the way back, and the front has a long side, like sideburns, or whatever you might call it.
The top part, it spikes vertically, but it’s spiky all in the front. The other influence, the other character, is from Final Fantasy XV and his name is Noctis. His hairstyle is very similar, except it’s less spiky, and the back of his hair kind of flows downwards as well as upwards. It’s a variation of the similar style. That’s what I explain when I talk to my hairdresser, and I show him pictures of this, and how it works, and spend time drafting that on my head.
Carter-David: Now, you mentioned your hair color, your eye color, and your clothing. So, you deal a little bit with beauty culture, too. I’m actually working on a piece for a book project that talks about black men’s grooming, and how it’s presented in magazines in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Can you talk a little bit about the connection between beauty culture and clothing? You talk about it as if it’s one, and as a black woman, I can’t really separate the two, right? Beauty culture in regard to my hair is a part of the larger discourse around respectability, and how I present myself, because I’m a black woman and my hair isn’t straight, right?
Carter-David: Which is a Eurocentric beauty norm, right?
Carter-David: And so, it’s all a whole look. It’s all a certain kind of presentation. So, do you see a strong connection between fashion and the beauty culture piece? Not that you can help what your eye color is anyway—
Chan: Well you can these days. These days you can.
Carter-David: Well, actually you can, right, and you can change it permanently, right?
Chan: Yeah, you can. Except for me, it’s like, I don’t want to touch my eyes. I don’t think I want to get into that.
Maybe in the future, when augmented reality comes in a little bit more. You can see things with your lenses, maybe I’ll get into that in the future.
Carter-David: Do you see a connection between beauty culture. By beauty culture, I mean everything except the clothing? How we do our hair? Cosmetics? In fact, what about earrings, piercings, tattoos, your eyes; some people do nails. You’re married, you have a wedding ring on.
Chan: I do. For me, I keep things very plain. The more I add, the more complex it is, and I don’t want too much complexity in terms of my style. The complexity is my hair. If everything is complex, then how do you draw someone’s eye into one thing, so that’s why I keep things as plain as possible, and have my hair be very complex.
I think my hair answers for spending time on my style. But it’s funny because generally in the working world, we think “Keep it Professional.” You have a certain persona, a certain look you have to meet traditionally, right?
“For me, I keep things very plain. The more I add, the more complex it is, and I don’t want too much complexity in terms of my style. The complexity is my hair.”
Chan: I break that mold. I try to meet those needs by some of the ways that I dress, but I try to break that with other things, hair being one of them. Also, the difference in how I wear my jacket, along with the others things.
Rarely do you see me wearing ties, but I might wear a scarf instead. I might tie my scarf like a tie, or just wrap it around my neck. I take things that are typically done, but I always go off just a little bit. That’s me, that’s how I look at things. I don’t like to stick with traditional. I’m not a very traditional person. I like to do things differently, and that’s just the way I look at things. I’m a creator. I like to be creative, from clothing, to music, and from all areas. I take what is done and I think “How can I not be the same as everyone else?” So that’s usually how I look.
Carter-David: That was one of my questions too, to tie in the musician part of you. Do you feel like you pretty seamlessly integrate your personal lifestyle and your professional expectations into one look?
This is what I strive for every day, because I feel like you and I have some of this stuff in common. I strive to be professional and let my personal aesthetic come in so the outfit I wear in the morning can take me through whatever I’m doing for the rest of the day. Do you feel like you do that too?
Chan: Yeah, I do that too.
Carter-David: I felt that way.
Chan: Really the only difference is my jacket, to be honest. Everything else, this is me. When you’re looking at me, this is how I am. I don’t change very much once I’m at home, or when I’m out and about, so what you’re looking at is me as a webmaster here, and as a musician.
Carter-David: And as a dad, and as a partner, all those different things. It needs to follow through the whole day.
Chan: Yeah, so what you’re looking at is actually me. I don’t change very much. I’m wearing the same things actually, here. All the clothes I brought here [for our photoshoot] are things I’ve worn here [at work].
Carter-David: Right, and then it’s funny because we interviewed Dr. Tricia Lin from Women and Gender Studies. She said she doesn’t like blazers, and I love blazers. Is this a blazer you have here?
Chan: Yeah. I do wear this one. Right now, it’s a little bit warm, but when it’s a comfortable temperature, I do wear that. Especially for meetings and things like that. I usually evaluate the day and see who I’m meeting. I’ll switch it out, depending in what is going on.
Carter-David: Well, I do the same thing. The blazer, if I’m wearing something I think might be a little questionable, makes me look professional.
Chan: Yeah, I think enough people know me to accept that nowadays. That’s why I’m more comfortable doing that, but I would say the first year, I didn’t take risks as much.
Carter-David: Had to feel it out.
Chan: Feel it out, yeah. In the first year I worked here, I actually had my hair shorter than I had it in years, but now Southern is a very accepting community. We encourage that, and to me, I’m going to be myself. It’s very appreciated here. That’s what I like about it.
“Southern is a very accepting community. We encourage that, and to me, I’m going to be myself. It’s very appreciated here. That’s what I like about it.”
Carter-David: I think the jacket is important, too. There’s a ton of material that I’ve uncovered on how different magazines at the turn of the 1970s and 1980s talk about the jacket as a statement piece. You have the rising corporate culture and all these women who are entering into the corporate workforce, and it’s always about the jacket.
And so, I think today, you can still pull that together. And the blazer changes with time. Sometimes the shoulders are broader. Sometimes the lapels are thinner.
Chan: Jacket science, because it’s almost like instant formality.
Carter-David: Yes, right away.
Chan: Instant. Right away. I’ve seen pictures of celebrities who wear jeans, and the cartoon shirts, and just throw on a jacket, and that kind of changes [the look]. They’re professional, but it’s cool as well. These days, I think, people are more accepting of that, so we’re more open to these kinds of things. At a lot of startups, they’ll wear whatever to work.
“Jacket science; it’s instant formality.”
If they’re in meetings, or meeting with clients, pop that [blazer] open and they’re good. There’s an edge to them.
Carter-David: Yeah. Can we talk a little bit about silhouette? I like how you said “My hair is the thing,” and so the rest of it must be, not basic, but toned down. So, I have questions about your style experience.
I think sometimes we look at people and think “That might be better if they didn’t do too much.” Can we talk about what it means for you not to do too much? What does it mean for you to say “My hair is my statement, but then if I decided to have rings on every single finger?” … I’m just curious about your thoughts on silhouette and style. What are you going for when you think about presentation and what it should look like?
Chan: Honestly, it’s one of those situations where I try not to put much time into the other things. It’s easy for me to think “I’m just going to put this on.” I [I like] not have to think about it because I just need to get going, so part of it is clearing it all out so I don’t have to think about it.
I have something that’s stylish already. I don’t have to spend [too much time getting dressed]. Every minute is key, right?
I’m not a morning person, so any few minutes I can cut down will be very helpful. If I wear a ton of accessories, I might have to think, you know, which ones I’m going to wear for today. For me, I don’t have that times, o if I can cut down the time, I can make my day very simple going forward.
Carter-David: I get that.
Chan: It’s the same with Mark Zuckerberg. He wears the same shirt [every day]. Why spend that brain power thinking about what to wear? He’s got his look, let’s just move on. I’m in the very similar boat, in that case.
If I don’t have a lot of variety in terms of colors, and all those differences, it’s easy for me to just move forward.
Carter-David: With that, I’ll ask you the last question. Could you just say a little bit about what it means to have statement pieces?
For some folks—and I think I’m becoming more of that kind of person too, although I love to shop—there’s statement colors, and statement pieces, certain things that you know are going to get you through. You don’t have to think about it too much. What are some of your statement pieces? I mean, we talked about the blazer, the sweater that has a pop of color. Could we say anything about pants, shirts, shoes? Staple. Staple, statement pieces.
Chan: Staple statement pieces.
Carter-David: I think that I just made that up, but it sounds like it makes sense.
Chan: Well, I might need a minute for this one. I’ve not thought about that before.
Carter-David: Well, like blazers, the blazer is a statement piece. You know, you chose a particular blazer that you like, it’s a black blazer. It matches with your grayscale already, and that could be your professional thing you do, right?
Chan: Right, gotcha. I always find clothing that is a little bit odd, but not totally, totally crazy. For example, [look at] this one, this is a sweater, but as you can see, it’s not a typical one. In this case the buttons are in the front, and it’s sort of on an angle. The reason I chose this is because it’s not something you commonly see, but another part of that is, I like to let people know that I don’t think the same way as most. I like to see things with a different eye.
Whenever I find clothes I always think what are people going to think of me when I pick that out? I want to have a balance between unique, but not “out there” crazy. Like “what is he doing?,” but his clothing is very intentional. The angles are very intentional. He’s trying to say “I’m not thinking the same way as everyone else. He like to see things with a different eye.”
That’s an example of why I’d pick something like this. Even another piece of clothing, over here I have a vest.
Carter-David: Let’s talk about the vest, right.
Chan: It’s a vest. Normally, I used to wear vests underneath my blazer. I haven’t done it lately; it’s been kind of warm. But this one is a little bit youthful in a sense, but the vest shows that there’s some professionalism in it, but it’s also edgy.
Carter-David: Yes, yes.
Chan: A lot of clothes I wear, honestly keep me young, so [the blazer] keeps me younger, and I like that. Especially when I’m talking about music and all that, you know, I like to draw the younger crowd. That means a lot.
Being at a university, it’s interesting. I like to be in connection with our students here. [In terms of] the things I wear, I like for someone to walk by me and say “Hey, that’s cool,” and have a nice trial with my students here, and some of them might be surprised that I’m an actual full-time employee here. I like it to be easy for students to say “hi.” I’m reachable.
Chan: I’m accessible, yeah. I’m not far away from the students here, that’s part of what I want to say.
Carter-David: Your thoughts on black leather?
Chan: Love it. If I can make every part of my clothing that, I would love it. It’s easy to wear, and keeps you warm. I’ve nothing bad to say about it.
Carter-David: I feel the same! So, are there any statement pieces that you’ve included in your look, in the past or currently?
Chan: Yeah, back in high school I used to have this inch-and-a-half length glow-in-the-dark star, and I poked a hole in it and put a necklace around it, and I would wear that throughout high school. It glows in the dark, it’s the same thing you would find in your wall, but I took one of those and made it a necklace. I love stars personally; I love anything to do with space. I love to think big, really big, I like to think outside the box, I like to look out on the stars. To me that’s the real world, we’re just a very small part of that “grand everything.” So, I didn’t want to forget that, that’s on my mind all the time. So, having the star was just a little reminder that we’re not just people walking round on earth, but we’re part of a much bigger thing.
Carter-David: So, it was a piece of, I don’t know, astronomical iconography. Are there any tattoos that you have that have the same kind of—
Chan: I don’t have tattoos, no. I keep it very plain. I don’t want to regret my decision later on. Everything about me is either my hair or my clothing. I don’t do anything permanent, just in case I want to change in the future.