Under Armour Havocs, with high tops and white laces. Golf caps, bought five years ago when the 2014 U.S Open came to their hometown of Pinehurst. Google Pixel 2 XL smartphones, with the same smooth plastic cases.
Matthew and Luke Wheeler have fallen into this habit for years. They're identical twins, so it’s easy for them to buy and wear the same thing. And it makes buying gifts a breeze.
But, when it comes to the Wheelers’ accessories, there’s one blatant difference: the color. Everything of Matthew’s is green. Everything of Luke’s is red.
For the past two years, this has turned the Wheelers into campus celebrities of sorts at UNC, where they both major in computer science.
They call it “color coding.” But it’s not for attention or anything else.
“We don't necessarily do it to help other people,” Matthew said. “I do it because I like green.”
“And I like red,” Luke said.
The contrast is most evident when the sophomores are together, which they almost always are. Matthew in green shoes and his green hat; Luke in red shoes and his red hat.
Their color preferences go back to elementary school, when the Wheelers had a brief and unsuccessful run in a recreational basketball league. Ahead of the season, their parents, Mark and Sandra, let them pick out new shoes. Matthew chose green, and Luke chose red.
“In middle school, people started mentioning, 'Oh, just remember them by their shoes,’” Matthew said. “So it kind of gave us an excuse to say, ‘Hey, I want green shoes.’”
“It was a self-fulfilling system,” Luke said.
At West Pine Middle School, Matthew and Luke took an extracurricular class called Future City. In the program, students work on designing and creating their own miniature city dioramas. Their teacher, Ms. Hippenmeyer, had trouble telling them apart — even with the shoes.
So she came up with nicknames: Mint Matthew and Lava Luke.
The Wheelers still use them to this day. They even have the nicknames on clothing, thanks to a longtime tradition of their high school speech and debate team.
Every year, juniors at Pinecrest High School are tasked with getting gifts for departing seniors. When Matthew and Luke were seniors in 2017, a junior named Caleb printed “Mint Matthew” and “Lava Luke” onto green and red T-shirts for them.
The words are centered in a white, bold font. Matthew and Luke keep them in their closets on the fourth floor of Cobb Residence Hall, where they room together. The shirts have specific washing instructions, so they don’t get much use — except for special occasions like the first day of classes, when interest in the Wheelers' outfits reaches a high point.
“It usually spikes during the start of the school year,” Luke said. “People say, 'Are you doing Mario and Luigi?' Those kind of things. And then people just get kind of used to it.”
Save for a few recitations, the Wheelers have had near-identical class schedules. Matthew and Luke’s colors usually don’t matter in large, impersonal lecture classes. But they have helped people differentiate between the two in smaller ones — except for a Spanish class last semester, where they think their professor was colorblind.
The coordination extends to basically everything the Wheelers do. On the first day of LFIT 110, a beginning swimming course, the twins introduced themselves as Mint Matthew and Lava Luke. Then they wore green and red swim trunks and goggles, along with their waterproof watches, for the entire semester.
Matthew and Luke’s commitment to green and red, however, isn’t a hard and fast one. They only own a few T-shirts in each color, and one pair of gym shorts, no pants or socks.
Coincidentally, Matthew and Luke lived just one floor under Davis last year at Graham Residence Hall. They’ve never met formally, but Davis, a sophomore known as the "yellow dude," said the Wheelers’ color choice is “amazing.”
“I think it's beautiful,” Davis said. “I love that we have this culture where everyone can just have their own individual thing and somehow get recognized for it.”
Colors aside, the Wheelers are huge fans of video games, among them "Overwatch" and "Super Smash Bros." Ideally, they’d work within North Carolina and in the same area after graduation. Both aspire for a job in programming. Or, even better, in video game design.
If their offices have a formal dress code, Matthew and Luke have a solution: green and red ties, just like they wore in speech and debate tournaments. Even if they don’t live or work near each other, they still think the coordination can live on.
“It's just our favorite color,” Luke said. “So, it's technically independent of the other one.”
Until then, they plan on rooming together and wearing their respective colors for the rest of college. They’ll keep walking around campus, almost step for step, and eating similar food in Lenoir Dining Hall: burgers, chicken nuggets and especially fries. Their tastes differ when it comes to barbecue sauce, spaghetti, popcorn and orange juice, though.
Matthew and Luke haven’t heard any negative comments yet. More frequently, a student will approach them and admit: “Hey, I've got to at least talk to you once.” Some will swear they’ve seen the Wheelers, who are sophomores, around campus for the last three years.
Matthew and Luke both find that claim hilarious. As they laugh and smile, they reveal the braces they wear. When those braces were put in, about two years ago, each twin was offered a selection of rubber band colors.
Mint Matthew and Lava Luke's choices were anything but a surprise.
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