Minnesota Style Chronicles: Herbert Stead

Herbert Stead portrait

Herbert Stead portraitMinnesota Style Chronicles: Herbert Stead has been volunteering as a greeter at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis for the last four to five years. A native of Rhode Island, Herbert came to Minnesota decades ago to work in the airline industry and is now retired. He conceived of this outfit himself — from the Chesterfield coat to the white gloves and black top hat. You can’t see it in the picture, but he’s wearing English riding boots he bought from the J. Peterman catalogue. His sartorial creativity isn’t inspired by a love of menswear. It turns out that people are the point. “It’s just people,” he told me. “People love it!”

Changing his hair “for the fun of it”

mohawk hair dye multicolor

mohawk hair dye multicolor

Minneapolis style chronicles: Jimmy, 17, a student at Minnesota Transitions Charter School, likes changing up his hair style every few weeks. His girlfriend dyed his hair for the mohawk-ish style he’s sporting now.

Whenever he’s considering a new hairstyle, Jimmy will ask his girlfriend for advice.

Next, Jimmy wants to try dying his hair partly red–or maybe white. He hasn’t decided yet.

He says he does these things “for the fun of it.” He thinks it’s good to experience new things.

Jimmy told me that people compliment him for his hair experiments, but he also gets “are you crazy?” reactions. He doesn’t pay any of this much mind.

“It doesn’t matter how you look like,” says Jimmy. “You’re still a human person. Just be yourself.”

Living is my job

fur coat with wool sleeves

fur coat with wool sleeves

Minneapolis style chronicles: I was working in a coffee shop in downtown Minneapolis last week when I vaguely noticed this guy who was there with some friends, huddled around laptops.

It wasn’t until he got up to leave that I really saw him in his full one-of-a-kind glory. That coat. How could you miss it? I dropped what I was doing, raced to the sidewalk before he could get away, and asked if I could take his picture and do a short interview.

I was so excited and also cold (I’d left my own coat inside) that I didn’t hit record on my iPhone right away. My first question was “Where did you get that coat?”

He told me that he doesn’t work for a living. “Living is my job.”

Yellow rain boots

yellow rain boots

yellow rain boots

Winter returned to Minnesota with last night’s snowfall. But not even a week ago, everything was melting and people were giddy.

It was on the first spring-like day of the season that I spied Mo, a 24 year-old theater artist, walking around in Minneapolis’ Uptown neighborhood. You couldn’t miss her wearing these sunny yellow rain boots. To me, the boots were a sign of hope that we’d survived this awful winter. The polar vortex was behind us. People were splashing around in puddles. Spring was here, finally.

Even though I create these style chronicle story portraits, I’m actually not all that style-centric myself. But I’ve discovered that style is an accessible portal for finding out what matters to a person. When I ask people to describe their style, the answers I hear almost always surprise me. Clothing can seem superficial, but what we wear tells a story. And behind Mo’s story of cheery yellow rain boots (a gift from her mother), there’s a hint at some sadness or struggle. I didn’t have the courage to ask her about that. But I’m grateful for what she did share with me on that warm afternoon when the world finally emerged from its wintry cage.

A scarf for 60 years

University of Birmingham beret and scarf

He called her darling. And not just once, but a lot. That’s what caught my attention.

I was out buying audio cables in the suburbs. “Darling, where are the USB drives?” I heard him say from across the aisle. This remark hinted at an abiding affection, mixed with the practical erranding of the day. The USB thumb drives were by the cash register. “Very well darling.” They both spoke with lilting British accents.

And then I noticed his scarf, beret, and galoshes. His clothes were out of another place and time. Who wears galoshes anymore? This guy does. So does my dad.

So I intercepted him on his way out. I learned that he’s a physics professor at the University of Minnesota. I assumed he was retired but he’s still teaching. He revealed the surprising history behind that colorful scarf. Listen to the audio above to hear him tell it in his own words. He’s been wearing some version of the scarf since the 1950s, when he was a university student in England. Up close, I could see how worn it was.

He doesn’t don the beret in deep winter. When it’s bitter cold, he prefers something that covers his ears. “I like them and don’t want them to fall off,” he said.