Tim Gunn: Corporate, Couture, and Confidence

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By Clara Faulkner, Business Manager

Tim Gunn, the well-known fashion consultant and television personality, brought his humorous content and impeccable sense of style to Emerson in Tuesday’s panel discussion exploring fashion in the professional world.

Gunn, who is known for mentoring aspiring designers on the popular television show “Project Runway” and co-hosting “Making the Cut” with Heidi Klum, spoke to dozens of students dressed to impress in the SPC Theater. The fashion icon sat in a plush purple armchair at the event hosted by the Department of Business of Creative Enterprises, dubbed “What Do I Wear?,” a demonstration of tips on how to dress in professional dress codes and how to remain inventive in business attire. 

Former students of Gunn started off the event with a runway show, full of both show-stopping and satiric looks. The variety of looks contrasted with one another, with outfits inspired by “purple nurple” to a sensual nun. The audience applauded as the students strutted the runway, leaving Gunn entertained before the discussion.

Speaking to Emerson alum and The Boston Globe reporter Diti Kohli ‘21, Gunn said he believes the monotonous business attire box is modifying not only the creative minds of individuals but also the entire fashion industry as we know it today. He offered his guidance and expertise on how one’s character is developed through their clothing.

“When we look at history and we go back millennia, what do we look at?” he said. “Society and culture are assessed based on the elements of what you’re wearing.”

The discussion, however, would not be complete without a remark on the students’ attire sitting in front of him in his pin-striped suit. Gunn gave the student audience fashion advice on how to dress appropriately for their physiques—and how not to. In particular, he singled out leggings as the one fashion item he despises more than any other. He doesn’t think of the 2010-born trend as substitutes for pants, but rather as concealed undergarments that should not be worn by themselves, let alone in public.

“If you have to ask yourself if you should be wearing it or if it looks good, the answer is no—it can get dicey,” Gunn said. “I really don’t believe we need to get vulgar with our clothing and [that] can happen with leggings.”

Gunn said the industry has taken a post-pandemic, whirlwind tour into fast fashion, and social media has heavily influenced this transition. For almost three years, the nation lost its sense of style by being stuck in homes—sweatpant sales surged. As people start to venture out again, they are looking for ways to express themselves through fashion, and social media is playing a big role in showcasing new trends and styles.

“You dress to underscore a sense of confidence,” he said. “That should vary from individual to individual—then I’m with you.”

Because of this, fast fashion has flourished and will continue to shape the future of clothing design to meet the rising need for stylish-yet-affordable clothes. Gunn has seen how the millennial age has changed the way the industry displays art. The fashion guru claims there’s a science to presenting one’s distinctive qualities through apparel, and that discipline is developing with novel forms of media. Gunn believes that there are three steps in creating the perfect outfit: silhouette, proportion, and fit.

“Things can morph into popular culture,” he said. “People are constantly asking me, ‘What’s the next fashion trend?’ If I knew, we’d already be there.” 

Gunn stressed the importance of students taking initiative to cultivate their own unique sense of style and identity. Students were able to benefit from his wisdom, ask their own questions, and receive knowledge about the fiscal side of the creative industry during the event. A student asked Gunn for advice on how to maintain individuality in the face of an otherwise routine work environment, and he provided some insight. 

“No one should be matron-like, including matrons,” he said. “Ask yourself what you wear all the time and what can you pair with that, your question is answered.”

Young adults alike are making efforts to break away from the mainstream and Gunn is encouraging it now more than ever.

“The difficulty is when you step out of mainstream and conventional, you step away from that with who you are engaging with,” he said in an interview with the Beacon. “Then you’re sending a message. [But] I’m all for pushing the envelope.” 

The entertainment expert teaches a class with Sharon Topper, a BCE faculty member. The course, titled Innovation for Impact, is a comprehensive exploration of sustainability innovation throughout Emerson and beyond. 

“What Sharon and I both love about the class is the growth we get to experience of the students,” he said. “We give them assignments, challenges that are going to test certain aspects of entrepreneurial thinking and creative thinking, and how to harness sustainability and what form it takes in the industry.”

Gunn said that the progressive, creative energy in the classroom goes both ways and that he often feels inspired by the ideas students bring to the table. Topper and Gunn are taking a new approach to the class, stating there is collaboration in store for the students. 

“We really want to have teams,” Gunn said. “We just found that one plus one just has an impact that is tenfold what one person can do, it also helps collaboration and compromise and to be healthy for the students.”

Gunn highlighted the presence of something special at Emerson, which is why he plans to continue spreading his inspiration both across the campus and in the classroom. He is excited to continue collaborating with students and hopes to inspire them just as much as they inspire him. 

“I am constantly in awe of how capable Emerson students are in thinking outside the box,” he said. “They really are able to take seeds and create something that I could have never thought of.”