Rashid Faisal is a principal-intern coach for Teachers College of Columbia University. He also partners with his wife Christie Faisal in a venture called Golden Apple Guest Teachers supplying hard-to-staff schools with substitute teachers who have gone through their own Urban Teachers Academy training. A self-described “equity educator and a social entrepreneur” Faisal is an award-winning teacher and principal, and I loved talking to a principal I wasn’t in trouble with.
It’s funny that Ivy gets the knock of being rich people’s clothes. Faisal, like many of us, started wearing the style as a matter of economics. Self-directed, Faisal says, “In high school I got the reputation for being a natty dresser. I was raiding the clearance section. Little did I know my classmates’ parents were raiding the thrift shops. Resale at the time was a matter of perception for me, I thought they were for poor people. I have since been re-educated.”
I asked him his prize thrift buy. “McConnell’s sells this polo coat I liked for $700. I found it for $1.”
“Okay that beats mine,” I said.
“Insult to injury,” he answered. “When I got it to the counter, the lady there pawed at it for a minute and told me it was on sale at 50% off.”
Humor aside, Faisal is also one of the foremost authorities on the origin of Ivy and its growth amongst the African American community. “Ivy style took hold in the Black community for the same reason it took hold in White communities who are not official members of the northeast crowd. It was how Americans of a certain class dressed — or those who identified with this class. Because of our marginalized status, we oftentimes had to prove our Americanness by adapting the culture of dress of the upper-class Americans. A good illustration can be found in the history of my fraternity — Alpha Phi Alpha — these people not only shaped a large part of my life, but are historical benchmarks for the path of Ivy Style in the African American tradition.”
Lest we get too intellectual, Faisal then confesses that he used to model.
“I will admit to you that I had a mullet if you will admit to me that you had the eraser haircut,” I offered up.
“I had dreads,” he answered.
He is hardcore about his Ivy now. Covid has created an opportunity for him as a work-from-home dad to spend time with his daughter, eight-year-old Gabrielle. I know eight-year-old daughters; they move a lot. Still, Faisal incorporates Ivy into every situation – even if it is limited in the afternoon to the right ballcap.
After bonding about thrifting and fatherhood, the conversation suddenly got serious about another shared passion. Faisal described a mentoring program he created at a school he taught at where his students had to wear a shirt and tie every day. The pros and cons of school uniforms have been bandied about endlessly. But Faisal’s take on the subject is both unique and convincing.
“It comes down to exposure. Exposure is everything,” he started. “Last year I came down the stairs with my daughter in one hand and a huge gym bag in the other. My wife goes, ‘Where are you going?’ And I said, ‘She has hockey practice.'”
“You don’t see a lot of African Americans in American hockey,” he continued. “And you don’t see a lot of girls. So that is where we went. And her favorite sport today? Hockey. She plays constantly. And the point for her is the same as it was for my students. You don’t have to wear a tie every day, and you don’t have to play hockey. But if you are exposed to it, you can at least make a more informed decision. And informed decisions determine the character of good people.”
“This has been a thing of mine, too,” I said. “You don’t have to wear a tie, but you have to have worn one. You have to know that it is an option, that you can own that life if you choose to, as much as owning any other life you want. Then you get to choose.”
Faisal agreed. When the principal agrees, well, it is helpful to stop there. Which was a good idea, because Faisal then moved on to his next premise.
“What are you wearing right now?” I asked. A question that I always feel a little sketchy asking, but this is my job.
“I do not want to spend too much time thinking about what to wear, and I find no reason to wear a shirt and tie with a suit while working from home. Ivy style is lifestyle. I wear fewer suits and blazers now — Brooks, J. Press, Hickeys Grosse Point, and Lands’ End primarily — and fewer sportcoats, too: Brooks, Harris Tweed, Lands End, J. Press, Polo RL, Van Boven, Lands’ End, for example. My standard right now is wide-wale corduroys, LL Bean camp moccasins, oxford shirt, and a diamond-quilted vest. Comfort.”
Comfort is a good word. We spent an hour on the phone and followed up with email, and we covered some sensitive ground. Faisal’s main gift, it turns out, may not be his amazing wardrobe after all. It may very well be his ability to bring big and hard issues to the forefront in a way that makes us embrace them. That’s probably more important than his corduroys, but they are a close second. — JOHN BURTON
John Burton is a co-founder of Ivy-Live, the new lifestyle partner of Ivy-Style.com, as well as our Trad Life columnist here.