Las Vegas Review Journal Interview with Dr. Clemente

Deirdre Clemente, associate director of public history and assistant professor of history at UNLV, is shown on campus at 4505 S. Maryland Parkway in Las Vegas on Monday, Jan. 25, 2016. Bill Hughes/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Dr. Deirdre Clemente
Feb. 3, 2016

Vegas Voices is a weekly question-and-answer series featuring notable Las Vegans.

For most of her life, Deirdre Clemente has been an East Coast girl.

She has a bachelor's degree from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, a master's in museum studies from New York's Fashion Institute of Technology and a doctorate from Carnegie Mellon University in her hometown of Pittsburgh.

During her days as a New York-based journalist, Clemente was a syndicated fashion/culture writer for The New York Times and an associate editor at Health magazine. (She still contributes fashion and pop culture coverage to the Atlantic and Harper's Bazaar websites.)

Just like so many people who wind up in Las Vegas, "never in a million years" did Clemente imagine she'd ever be a desert dweller.

"But, in the academic business, you go where the work is," she explains. And in her case, that work is at UNLV, where she's an assistant professor of history and associate director of the university's public history program.

Since arriving at UNLV five years ago, Clemente has continued to focus on clothing and culture, which she explored in her 2014 book "Dress Casual: How College Students Redefined American Style."

Clemente's fashion expertise also has shown up in movies (as historical consultant for director Baz Luhrmann's 2013 Oscar-winning "Great Gatsby" adaptation) and at museums, from a pop-up Cosmopolitan display of Liberace's eye-popping costumes to a 2012 "Vegas Style" exhibit at the Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas.

Clemente also wrote the narrative accompanying the Las Vegas News Bureau's "Sinatra's Centennial" exhibit, at the Las Vegas Convention Center through May.

All of which makes her a very Vegas girl indeed.

We recently spoke with Clemente, 42, about life — and style — in Neon Nirvana.

Review-Journal: What brought you to Las Vegas?

Clemente: I came here for the job — and I have fallen in love with the city. I love the energy. UNLV is a very dynamic place to work.

RJ: Did you have any expectations when you moved here?

Clemente: I knew Las Vegas as a place to vacation. … But a friend lived here so I knew actual people lived here. People ask, "Do you live in a casino?" I have four kids — I can't remember the last time I went to a club. … I had expectations for a really nice house at a pretty good price. (She found one, too, where she lives with her husband, a fellow historian, and their children, ages 7, 6, 4 and 2.)

RJ: Does such a thing as "Vegas style" exist? If so, how would you describe it?

Clemente: Youthful — and casual. … There's a healthier vibe here, for women in particular. … And there's just a sexiness in dressing that was very striking. … On campus, I'm almost taken aback by the clothing that (students) wear to class. Pajama bottoms (or) what you would wear to a nightclub.

RJ: What grade would you give Las Vegans on their fashion sense?

Clemente: Three out of five. Above average. First of all, as a world-class shopper, there's unbelievably good shopping here. And unbelievably good thrift shopping. But there's not a sense of appropriateness. You'll see people going into downtown courthouses … and they're not in keeping with national standards. That's the California influence. … Tourists (are) so wild: tube dresses, flip-flops and untucked T-shirts. The thing that makes me upset is you'll see a guy with a baseball cap and an oversized team T-shirt and (his) girlfriend will be all dressed up.

RJ: What's your favorite thing about living in Las Vegas?

Clemente: You never know who you're going to meet. People are often interested in my work as a historian. They're a lot more receptive.

RJ: What's your favorite "Vegas-y" thing to do?

Clemente: No question what it is — it's Frankie's Tiki Room (on Charleston Boulevard). I love a good tiki room. … Also, I have four kids. We like to get them out and run them, so we go to Red Rock at least once a month.

RJ: What's your favorite un-"Vegas-y" thing to do?

Clemente: Buy people's old clothes. I go thrift store shopping and there are so many fresh new things. As a historian, I go through all kinds of weird tourist things. I also collect Aran sweaters. They always look great. That's pretty non-"Vegas-y."

RJ: What's the most surprising thing about living in Las Vegas?

Clemente: The belief that Las Vegas just blows up their history and Las Vegans did not have an appreciation for their culture. That was absolutely wrong-o. People get that it's a completely unique place to live and I think they appreciate the history of Las Vegas — and not just the Rat Pack stuff, although everyone loves the Rat Pack. But people here appreciate the past more than I gave them credit for.

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