You’ve probably seen Noel Quiñones ’15 in his element — short-brimmed hat barely covering his dark tuft of hair, rocking a vest and a pair of jeans, voice tense and confident, as he invites you into the world of slam poetry.
Painting a vivid picture with words of his life, Noel has prompted you to snap, sigh, or laugh. Noel’s gift of self-expression isn’t only found on the page. Giving just as much energy into his wardrobe, Noel, the Swarthmore CUPSI team member, admits he has heard many times he “dresses like a poet,” and embraces that association. Being a part of the slam scene for five years, he has been awed by the distinctive style of spoken word artists, whose creative assembles at competitions reflect their individuality and enhance their performances. “Dressing like a poet is, by definition, pushing the boundaries” — lyrical and stylish, he explains.
But don’t minimize his fashion sense to your stale image of a poet in the basement of a darkened slam venue, clad in ripped jeans and a beanie. A native New Yorker, Noel’s style is a “mix of urban and classy,” paying homage to the city he describes as a place of “everything and anything stylistically.” Pairing faded jeans with dress shoes and graphic tees with the words “I love Hip Hop” on it, Noel blends the eccentric with the clean-cut. Seeing all elements as accessories, he even color-codes his headphones, so as to not throw off the feng-shui of his outfit. While graphic tees are plentiful, you would just as readily see Noel dolled up in a button-down shirt and tie, just because. Noel’s fashion sense, then, is unique and eye-catching. Much like his poetry, his fashion sense is well-composed, blending many items and styles into an entertaining ensemble.
It’s hard to believe that his style just a few years ago would have left his audience underwhelmed. Not afraid to push the envelope, Noel deliberately resists the heterogeneity of the South Bronx fashion scene, one where men interchange polo shirts of various shades and jeans overrun by Aeropostale or Hollister labels, topping it off with this or that pair of Nikes or Jordans. However, the staleness he loathes in these New Yorkers could be applied to the wardrobe of his teenage years. “I had an obsession” for “graphic tees from Hot Topic and Pac Sun” especially “the kind that have I’m with stupid and an arrow on them.” To top these not-so-profound tees, Noel would only wear Osiris’ purchased at Journey’s, so much so he was “nicknamed Osiris in high school,” he smiles and recounts.
It was not until his dad, whom he considers his fashion icon, forced him to consider broadening his wardrobe from what he deems a strictly “urban” aesthetic. His dad, growing up as a Latino male in the South Bronx and yet securing a job in corporate America, understood how powerful perceptions are. Unwilling to be underestimated, Noel’s father “went to a lot of different places, combined a lot of different things,” building a financial-district employee’s wardrobe from limited means. Noel paints his father as a man who takes his style seriously, managing to put his own flair on the traditional business formal codes of dress. Prompting Noel to have conversations about what fashion means and can say about him, his father prophesied that he would one day “enjoy dressing up” and while the hard-headed teenage Noel denied it, his father was right.
Today, Noel incorporates the “classy” pieces his father suggested, stocking his wardrobe with “more vests, blazers, tied and collared shirts” into his urban style. Making an “Iron Man graphic Marvel t-shirt and a vest” work is what “makes my style unique,” he explains. Known around campus for his graphic tees that “always say something deep” and for his rich array of accessories from bracelets, watches, and sunglasses to over 20 hats, Noel’s style seems to yell “expensive.” Despite what it may seem, Noel will very rarely spend a lot on clothing. Shopping in affordable clothing stores such as his favorite 21 Forever, and Urban Outfitters and Hot Topic among others, Noel, like his father, has learned the art of finding gems on a budget.
His current outfit reflects his stylish sensibilities. The brown Blackstone “dress boots” (borrowed from his father’s wardrobe) offset the laid-back nature of the rest of the outfit, comprised of his favorite pair of jeans, gray-wash denim with white splattered dots, and a gray beanie. His top, from Urban Outfitters, is a black graphic tee with a neighborhood map of Manhattan in white lettering as its design.
To add a pop of color, he incorporates various red accessories, from a bright-red belt with ornate arrow patterns and a Good Wood grizzly bear necklace. This outfit is finished off with a gray jacket with subtle line patterns also from 21 Forever.
When asked what his fashion principles were, he shared two. He stressed the importance of dressing well and appropriately. “In the society we live in, you get judged for that. Especially as a person of color … you need to be able to know what environments you are going into and how you will be perceived,” he explained. Self-presentation, then, can and should be dictated to some degree by the situation one is in. Learning to embrace his suit and tie, Noel will be invited into the world of academia or corporate America.
However, what he stressed most was what his father instilled in him, that they key to happiness and confidence is dressing for oneself. Wearing dress socks with an orange accent, his favorite color, Noel explains “no one sees the socks, but they are for me and are something that makes me happy.” While subtle, incorporating small things that are individual to him make him not only look good but feel good.