Nick Dupras’ vintage aesthetic has earned many double takes across campus. Some eyes gravitate toward his impressive handlebar mustache. Others focus on his hand-tailored suits, such as the three-piece linen ensemble with matching eight-dart cap for warmer weather. With winter’s arrival, he shifts to pinstripes and wears protective spats over his classic shoes. You might even catch a glimpse of Dupras adjusting his prescription monocle or checking the time on an antique pocket watch suspended from a chain he made. The adjunct history instructor projects a dignified, 1930s vibe that commands attention in a modern context. But if Dupras’ style truly reflected his academic specialty, he would be shrouded in a suit of medieval armor.
“A doublet and hose from the Middle Ages might be pushing it,” he laughed. “A hobby of mine is exploring the history behind the way people dressed. I’ve always loved movies from the ‘30s and ‘40s and try to replicate those looks. I knew how to sew, but I taught myself tailoring while in graduate school in England because I didn’t have a forge and needed a creative outlet. There are many aspects unique to vintage clothing: a shirt with four different detachable collars; the jacket’s belted back and four patch pockets; socks that should match trousers, not shoes. Those are the things Cary Grant thought about. The devil’s not in the details—the point is in the details. The only things I didn’t make myself [for the linen suit look] were the socks and shoes.”
For his wedding to Cassie Bowler, whom he met when both were students in an NMU history course, Dupras wore a kilt featuring the MacBeth tartan. He joked that MacBeth may not be the epitome of marital bliss, but the plaid choice seemed appropriate for the union of a medievalist and Shakespearean. The couple has a 6-year-old son named William Ronald Reuel, named in honor of Shakespeare and J.R.R. Tolkein. A first grader and “budding bibliophile,” he peppers his vocabulary with English phrases such as trousers instead of pants and tea time in place of dinner. The family enjoys going to the library, rock hounding, camping and hiking up Sugarloaf. Dupras dons knickerbockers and argyle socks for recreational activities, in case you were wondering.
On the coal-fired forge he built, Dupras crafts reproductions of historical tools, flint and steel firestarters, locks and clocks using period-appropriate techniques. He also makes armor and jousting helmets for reenactors. “I hope they work,” he adds, as his mustache rises and conforms to the curve of his jesting grin. He has sold some items on Etsy.
“I find the metalwork technology and objects from the Middle Ages fascinating. The blacksmithing and jewelry courses I took at Northern alongside my core history courses helped me better understand how medieval people worked. Most historians of armor production aren’t personally acquainted with what happens when you heat and hit metal. Or how you take a flat piece of it and shape it into different forms. My experience from the art and design classes connected all of that with my historical interest.”
The NMU alumnus (’06 BS) completed his master’s and doctorate at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom. He had a well-qualified adviser for his dissertation on armor-making techniques and tools: the curator at the Royal Armouries in Leeds. This museum served as a consultant for The Lord of the Rings crew to ensure the film series’ authenticity. Its reputation and relevance to his academic interest were major factors in Dupras’ decision to pursue graduate school in the U.K. After wrapping up an accelerated and intense doctoral program, the Marquette-area native returned to his roots and began sending out job applications.
“I kept knocking on the door at Northern because I love the university and community,” Dupras said. “I thought it would be very good to secure an adjunct position. After a little while, something opened up and I got my foot in the door. I teach Western civilization to 1600 and a medieval technology course. Many things we have today can be traced to that age—a world lit only by fire, as one historian said.
“The great cathedrals were built one stone at a time without Black & Decker. NASA went to London to look at a suit of armor that encased King Henry VIII to find a better way to design a spacesuit along that same fully protective line. The example I use for students is that the astronomical clock of the 14th century was the Large Hadron Collider of its day; it was remarkable in terms of what it could do. I’m still impressed and I have a laptop on my desk. History finds its way into the modern world in unexpected ways. I’m thankful for the work I’m doing sharing that with students.”