You would expect a librarian to be organised and efficient, and Antony Hopkins, Kilfinan Librarian, Head of Book, Witt and Conway Libraries at The Courtauld extends these professional skills into all aspects of his life. So, when I met him recently for a chat about his clothes, he had just packed away his autumn/winter wardrobe and swapped to spring/summer styles ready for the new season. This meant a pairing of crisp cotton shirt in a red and white check, and pale chinos – a suitably breezy outfit for the all too rare London sunshine.
While Antony favours American sportswear labels – today’s ensemble is all from Banana Republic – he is keen to set parameters on just how casually dressed you can be at work. He has considered the possibility of wearing ‘a jean’ to the library, but he feels that ‘biscuit’ Calvin Klein trousers are as informal as he should go – although he has been known to wear cargo shorts in summer. And one of the things I like about Antony’s workwear is that there is always a slight holiday air to his outfits that adds to our libraries’ cheerful atmosphere.
Another aspect of Antony’s attitude to fashion that endears him to dress historians, is his consciousness of the ways clothing must not just meet your own ideas of appropriateness and style, but also – to paraphrase Erving Goffman – meet the expectations of those you will encounter in the workplace. Indeed, Antony draws on Ru Paul’s oft-quoted truism that ‘we’re born naked, and the rest is drag’, to describe his own dressing process as donning ‘work drag.’ A brilliant way to think about how we transform ourselves to – quite literally – perform our required role.
This is not to say that he ignores the more personal and intimate aspects of dressing. As he talks about his clothes, Antony continually refers to his partner and family – demonstrating how entwined our sense of self and interest in dress is with memory and relationships to others. Thus, he describes how he and his partner share clothes – which simultaneously ‘doubles and halves your wardrobe,’ while he discusses his love of Crocs as in part a result of heredity. Since, as his Grandma would say, ‘we’re right wide-footed [in our family].’
Ah yes, the rather controversial subject of his choice of footwear. He has a big collection of Crocs, in various styles and colours that he shares with his partner. Antony sees them as not just ‘incredibly comfortable,’ but also as having a ‘Bauhaus-ness‘ to them. This opinion has led to an ongoing – good-natured – dispute with one of The Courtauld’s professors, who fails to see the link between these moulded plastic shoes and modernist Weimar design. A lively debate that only adds to Antony’s value to the dress history community, as well as to The Courtauld’s Libraries.