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Pretty in Pink

The most coveted merchandise in the male politico fashion realm sits just to the left of the door at Eljo's clothing store on the Corner.

There, on a 4-foot-high rack, one can find the famous U.Va. belt, available in a wide variety of shades of brown leather. The gleaming golden buckle boasts a figure of the Rotunda, allowing the wearer to signify his University affiliation to all.

When considering the fashion of University politicos, the belt is the item most frequently and fervently mentioned.

"That is a beautiful thing," fourth-year College student Eric Dean Hutter said.

Going inside the politico closet

Ask a politico - one who holds a position of power at the University or thinks he does - what defines his wardrobe, and the same items keep popping up.

"Politico fashion consists of pastel-colored oxford shirts, closely fitting khaki pants and well-shined shoes," Student Council President Joe Bilby said as he sat behind his desk and put his feet up to display admittedly unpolished, scruffy footwear.

But for others, less mainstream items of clothing define politico vestments.

"The seersucker suit defines male politico fashion," said Honor Committee Chairman Thomas Hall as he relaxed in an office adorned with photos of him in bow ties.

Foremost among the key components of the politico look are pastel-colored button-down shirts - commonly referred to as the "politico pink."

But many politicos are quick to point out their choice of color goes far beyond rosy hues to include an entire palette of subdued shades.

"It takes a very strong man to take down the gender stereotype of color," Hutter said, praising politicos everywhere for expanding into the world of lavender, peach and minty green. He added that he has several pink shirts and believes "they are quite nice."

Several student leaders claimed that yellow is gaining popularity as a particularly snazzy color for dress shirts.

Asst. Dean of Students Aaron Laushway, who remains one of the University's most dapper administrators, said he recommends yellow shirts not only for students, but also for faculty.

"Yellow is mellow ... I have, on occasion, been known to wear yellow," Laushway said.

University Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Lissa Percopo expressed dismay at the prevalence of pink shirts on politicos and added she finds sassier dark colors much more appealing.

But Percopo admitted she "would be a fan of a conversion from pink to yellow."

Another item that causes politicos to coo with pleasure is the classic seersucker suit - a common sight during the summer months.

Luke Mitchell, Honor Committee vice chairman for education, said his full seersucker suit is "perfect for Foxfield," a spring steeplechase, and other such occasions.

Laushway agreed but said students must be careful only to wear seersucker between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Foxfield, however, is an exception to this rule.

"I think Thomas Hall has more seersucker than I," Laushway said.

It's all about the bow tie, baby

Former University politico John Finley widely is credited with defining current politico style - from the pink shirts to the neckwear seen on many student leaders.

"You cannot be a serious politico - it doesn't run in your blood - unless you sport a bow tie," said Finley, who was Student Council's appropriations chair last year.

But opinions on the propriety and usefulness of bow ties are wide-ranging. Some politicos claim they are always appropriate while others state they wouldn't be caught dead in one.

Hall was adamant that bow ties are only for football games and Foxfield - with no exceptions.

The bow tie projects "a certain image not all people can identify with," he said, although he did admit he finds a bow tie more convenient than a full-length tie.

Bilby took a harsher stand on the popularity of bow ties. He claimed he does not "have one, and I wouldn't know how to tie it if I did."

Mitchell claimed there is a proper bow tie to be found for nearly every occasion, ranging from the formal to the casual.

"There's nothing better to say 'I'm conservative, and I'm a politico'" than a bow tie, Second-Year Council President Steve Bowman said before pointing out the popularity of both paisley and striped patterns of bow tie.

Laushway delivered his own authoritative view on the proper wearing of bow ties.

"I think they're appropriate for festive occasions, though some people wear them constantly," he said. "These tend to be festive people."

Belting it

The Eljo's belt is in a class by itself.

"We go through thousands of these," Eljo's employee Don Rogers said as he displayed the finely tooled leather and glowing insignia of what may be the most widespread politico trademark.

Laushway said some students gravitate toward the classic style of the Eljo's belt. The belt, however, is not "essential" for attaining politico status, he said.

Bowman said the belt is a "staple" of every politico wardrobe. He shuns the typical politico mode of dress, however, and prefers a more urban look of black trousers and black shoes. Presumably it does not include the Eljo's belt.

From whence it came

Which came first, the politicos or the fashion? Percopo thinks she knows the answer.

"I think it's ingrained in them here," she said. "I wonder if they all wore pink and bow ties in high school."

The male politicos themselves, however, give two reasons for their style of dress: tradition and necessity.

Mitchell credits the "romantic idea of the southern gentleman, and everything that it includes - from mint juleps to bow ties to seersucker."

Other politicos look back to the earlier days of the University, when students traditionally wore coats and ties to class, as the real beginning of the current conservative look.

Larry J. Sabato, government and foreign affairs professor, said he welcomes the well-dressed appearance of many students - a style he said was shunned during his days as a University student in the early 1970s.

"You did your best to look your worst," Sabato said. "I can sum up our fashion in one word: horrible."

Other politicos cited the need to look presentable for meetings with administrators and faculty as the main reason for their fashion choices.

"You can't walk in there looking like a bum," Bilby said.

But "I think the general idea behind politico fashion is to make oneself appear more professional and competent than you really are," he said.

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