Corporate Texan to Midwestern Academic: Paul Wheatley’s Journey

Our story is at the core of all we do – do you have a story about your life that drives you?

Before I went into academia, I worked running a small nonprofit for several years in Texas. It was a situation where I either wore a suit or slacks and a nice shirt every day. I had a uniform that I rarely changed up. The pieces I wore weren’t very adaptable to the climate and they were more refined than rugged. I distinctly remember a day that I snagged my foot on a metal landscaping barrier that tore a gash clean through my nice (and costly) dress shoe that couldn’t be repaired.

After five years of this, I was ready for a change, and I moved to the Midwest to pursue a doctorate in religious studies. The academic environment was more casual than my nonprofit work had been, and the midwestern climate required clothing that was more rugged and more adaptable to the weather. I began looking for items to add to my wardrobe that could look hit the sweet spot between casual and well-presented for the academic world but would still stand up to the midwestern rain, snow, and cold. At the same time, I was becoming more aware of who made the clothes I wore and where they came from.

This is when cuffcheckdenim was born, around 2019. At first, the Instagram account was a way for me to discover brands that I couldn’t find in a mall, who made clothing that didn’t come from a sweatshop across the globe. During this process of discovery, I started posting pictures of my own, to see how these new pieces were working once I put them on. When you spend ten hours a day in a library buried in books, you don’t get a lot of chances to hear from others how your clothes fit or look. This account was a window outside my little cubby in the library to hear from others and be inspired to find a style that worked for my stage in life as a dad, working toward a new career, in a new climate.

paul wheatley in the woods by a camping tent

What are your top 3 guiding values? What made these important to you and how do you live by these in your everyday life?

My top three guiding values are family, faith, and friendship. I have two daughters and a wife who keep me grounded and fill my life with adventure. I try to order my schedule around being home for breakfast and dinner every day, and I put my kids to sleep almost every single night. I’ve noticed that in those seasons when I’m home the most, everything around the house is just a little more peaceful, like we all just settle in and enjoy life together. It’s always a little nutty with kids, but it’s the kind of crazy I wouldn’t trade for any amount of sanity!

As far as faith goes, it’s always been a big part of my life. My faith affects how I approach my day, the people around me, and myself. As an extension of this, it also affects how I think about what I buy and what products and brands I support with my money and my attention. We each make the world better for everyone when we are thoughtful about not just what looks good, but where something is made, what it’s made of, and how long it will last. I’m not going to beat you over the head with a book, but you might hear me get a little bit impassioned about how many seasons a sturdy waxed canvas jacket has lasted me over the many flimsy rain jackets  it would have taken to equal that one piece.

Then come my friends. As a dad of young kids, living pretty far away from my home state of Texas, it can be hard to have time for extra relationships. However, I find that whenever I reach out to a friend—whether a new friend here in Wisconsin or an old friend I haven’t talked to in a few years—the power of opening up and sharing life and experience lifts my spirits and helps me feel like I’ve got a team in my corner.

If you could travel anywhere in the world at this very moment, where would you go & why?

I would go to the Patagonia region of Argentina. The rugged, remote, untouched landscape down there feels like the closest you could be to another planet. Plus, I’m really starting to get into fly fishing, and I hear the trout there are pretty unbelievable. I would love to camp out in the Patagonian wilderness and smell a huge cut of Argentinian beef sizzling on the fire while I sip a glass of local wine with my wife and watch our kids explore somewhere truly wild.

What inspires you?

I get inspired by people who take unexpected raw materials and turn them into something nobody has ever seen before. For example, one of my favorite albums of all time is Paul’s Boutique by the Beastie Boys. Aside from the title involving my name and a boutique that sells “The best in men’s clothing”, the production of this album is so unique and could never be made today. The producers, the Dust Brothers, took hundreds of samples ranging from Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash songs to Curtis Mayfield to the Deliverance Soundtrack and mixed them with manic-stream of consciousness lines and oddball stories about down-on-their-luck rockabilly legends and science from the Beasties to create a masterpiece of late-80s hip hop. It’s danceable, quotable, and sounds like it could have been made any time between 1987 and 2587. This kind of outside-the-box creativity inspires me in my everyday professor and dad life to take whatever honest ingredients and tools life throws at me and to make something good with it.

How would you describe your style?

With my corporate Texan to Midwestern academic origin story, I started describing my style as “rugged academic”. There are plenty of Ivy style icons out there in business suites and faculty meetings alike, but sometimes it’s hard to look at those outfits and ever imagine them doing any activities other than rowing crew or rushing off to the seashore for a cocktail party and clam bake. Sometimes I get home from work and want to run off into the woods for a hike or a chance during hunting season to sit in the blind for a few hours until the sun goes down. I don’t want to waste time changing every piece of clothing. I want to throw off my blazer, put on a sturdy jacket or vest, top it off with a warm, comfortable hat, and get to work. Plus, I live close enough to my office that I walk to work. Every. Single. Day. Rain, snow, heat, it doesn’t matter. Being out there for the walk to work helps keep me connected to the natural rhythms of the earth, even if I’m spending most of the day in the classroom or the library doing research. That connection to the untamed real world and the work in my office to wrangle some wild research, this, to me, is rugged academic.

What’s the inspiration behind cuffcheckdenim?

People talk about “dad style” all the time, but one of my biggest style inspirations has been my dad. Growing up, I remember he always had two pairs of jeans: one newer, raw shrink-to-fit pair of Levi’s that he wore until they almost gave out, and the other was the faded pair from the year or two before. I loved seeing how this simple, everyday piece of clothing underwent a radical change over the months and years, and I marveled at how versatile they were. He would wear the newer ones with classy oxford button down shirts for most of his office work, and he would wear the faded ones with a flannel or a t-shirt, and they always looked perfect. 

When I started to settle into a style that would work for me in academia and roughing around the back yard with my kids, I couldn’t do much better than my dad did all those years ago. So I started stocking up on a few good pairs of raw denim, some oxford shirts and flannels, and a few rugged pieces of outerwear to carry me through whatever the Midwest throws at me. Dadstyle: embraced.

What goes into cultivating an outfit you feel confident in?

For me, it’s all about having solid staples that can go with almost anything and finding new ways to combine them. I divide my closet into three zones: 

1.) The red/blue/green zone with oxfords, flannels, and anything that I could wear in a casual or academic environment with blue denim, chinos, or sturdier canvas pants.

2.) The black and olive zone, filled with things that go easily with black in some of my more simplified looks.

3.) The earth tone zone, chocked full with more rugged browns and natural tones. This last category has a lot of my outerwear in it. 

When I do it like this, I can almost grab any top or bottom from one of the zones, and the colors will match almost everything else in the zone. Do I cross the zones? Of course! I also pay attention to texture and style, and this is where I like to mix things up. I really like taking a nice Oxford shirt and mixing it up with some rugged canvas pants and a sturdy wool vest, a denim jacket, or some waxed canvas outerwear or accessories to make the academic look rugged. But at the end of the day, my favorite outfit is a flannel or oxford, denim, boots, and a good hat.

What’s different about Stormy Kromer’s style? What does it add to an outfit?

Stormy Kromer has a rugged, but offbeat style that feels very homegrown to me. The original Kromer caps were something that arose out of necessity, what was available on hand, and some creativity. When I put a Kromer cap on I feel a little more Midwestern in all the best ways: sturdy, understated, but full of interesting tidbits. I also feel ready for whatever the day throws at me, especially if natural elements from the outdoors are involved!

What was your first Stormy Kromer product? How did you first learn about Stormy?

My first Stormy Kromer product was a wool Kromer cap in a denim-blue plaid. When I first got it, I started noticing when I’d see others in Kromer caps. It was like we were in a club, we just understood each other.

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