High school yearbook superlatives like “best-dressed,” or “most likely to become famous,” are typically doled out and left in the past, with the adult world in a hurry to do exactly that – leave them in the past. 

Many Gonzaga University students and faculty, however, know the value of a polished outfit, whether it means nailing an interview or expressing one’s background to the world.

One such faculty member is professor Gloria I-Ling Chien, a religious studies professor who specializes in Eastern religions. Professor Chien was initially nominated by junior Rafael Vegas during in-person polling to identify GU’s most stylish professors. 

 Originally from New Taipei City, Taiwan, Chien’s sense of style is in many ways a love letter to the women who raised her. 

When she was in school, it was customary for Taiwanese school children to wear uniforms to classes. Chien said she remembers that twice a week, children had the freedom to choose what to wear.

“My mom on Wednesday and Saturday liked dressing me up," Chien said. "That was a way for her to show her love."

After Chien moved to the United States to attend a doctorate program at the University of Virginia, her aunt Katy Pu began sending her pieces by mail on a regular basis, including one of her favorites — a Vietnamese dress called an anáo dài. 

“[My aunt] has very good taste in interiors, performance art, fashion and jewelry,” Chien said.

She credits performance art with bonding the two of them over a shared appreciation for all things beautiful. They enjoy visiting the theater together in Taiwan, watching performances by the Cloud Gate Dance Theater, which blends traditional Chinese elements like calligraphy with modern dance. 

“Clothing is so related to my passion for the arts," Chien said. "I like going to museums, Chinese paintings, poetry and literature… The clothes are embedded within those arts."

Joining fashion with the arts is an experience Chien also enjoys creating for her students. Max Friedli, a junior and student of Chien’s, said that her ability to incorporate new mediums into the curriculum makes the class exceedingly impactful.

“She came to class one day, and she had a dress that was a typical Buddhist dress," Friedli said. "It was beautiful… to actually see something from that culture in person. Especially with fashion, there’s a huge difference seeing it in person."

Chien enjoys incorporating lessons through her outfits in subtle ways, too, such as donning a black-and-white shawl with toggles for a lesson on Taoism and the black-and-white concept of yin and yang forces.

“I think the reason I appreciate [Chien’s style] so much is because I’ve always appreciated fashion as a form of art,” Friedli said. “It’s not just clothes to everyone- it’s art.”

Chien’s appreciation of fashion and the arts is largely founded on her fascination with China’s Tang dynasty, which she says represents the golden age in literature, poetry and Buddhism. Chinese popular culture draws upon this era for inspiration and many current television programs are related to the Tang Dynasty.

In high school, Chien began developing a stamp collection with stamps depicting famous Tang Dynasty paintings. Following high school, Chien studied finance but her fascination with the arts and academia ultimately led her to a Buddhist monastery that housed a graduate school. Her classmates were a mix of lay people and monastic members, many of whom frequently gifted her with hand-me-downs. 

“They called me a hanger,” Chien said, referencing a Chinese expression that implies a person looks good in many kinds of outfits. 

Today, Chien is well-established in her career and no longer wears hand-me-downs from classmates. She is hesitant, however, to overpay for pieces and appreciates a good bargain. 

Most recently, her students have introduced her to Etsy, an e-commerce platform for handmade and vintage items. Wherever her pieces come from, Chien is adamant that they exude class and a timeless quality.

“I wear clothes that make me feel joyful and empowered," Chien said. "It makes professional sense to put in the effort, and a quietly-polished look emits positive chi (energy) into the classroom."

Chien’s clothing is in many ways a gesture of respect for her students, colleagues and those she interacts with in her day-to-day life or when conducting research.

“On pilgrimages and interviews, I always wear my chuba,” Chien said.

She notes that the Tibetan people she interacts with are happy because they can see her respect and passion for Tibetan culture.

“Clothes are symbolic," Chien said. "It looks nice, but it’s more than that; it represents a larger cultural context."

Dr. Chien thanks her mom, Zhiping Pu, her aunt Katy Pu and her students for inspiring her style. 

Kate Sullivan is a staff writer. 

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