Professorial fashion; or the art of looking like you could ‘profess’

by Anna Blanch on December 14, 2009

“There is much to support the view that it is clothes that wear us, and not we, them; we may make them take the mould of arm or breast, but they mould our hearts, our brains, our tongues to their liking.” (Viriginia Woolf)

So here we are. I am not ashamed to say that this post was prompted by my discovered of academichic, a lovely little blog about 3 PhD students thinking through how to dress professionally, 1) fashionably, and 2) being a good steward of the available resources (i.e. on a budget). It is 4 parts image, 2 parts comfort, 2 parts budgetary constraints, and 2 parts fuelling my imagination on a daily basis.

This post assumes that dress is part of your professional image and professional image is one aspect of job performance. I am aware that others may agree or disagree with this assumption to various lengths. Over at Fashionable Academics they asked this question earlier in the week:
Have you ever felt like your personal style has made your colleagues or professors take you less seriously?  Have you ever felt that it contributed to an awkward situation with a student?  If you are not an academic, do you feel that you are judged in your line of work for the way you dress?  Is your profession fashion friendly or fashion phobic? 

I’d be interested in your answers to this question as well. Does your faith influence the way you think about your academic wardrobe? Is your professorial fashion a reflection of you? or is it mere trappings? is it superfluous and completely unimportant – that wearing a sack would be just as good? What is appropriate professorial dress in your department?

Erik M Jensen wrote an article a while back for InsidehigherEd on “A Call for Professional Attire” in which he begins by lamenting:

Professors, it’s been said, are the worst-dressed middle-class occupational group in America. Instead of being role models, we’ve convinced everyone to slum. As clothing theorist Nicholas Antongiavanni explains in The Suit: A Machiavellian Approach to Men’s Style, “[M]any came to believe the protestation of academics that taste was nothing but a fraud perpetrated by the great to keep down the people.

Some things I noted about the discussions of professorial fashion
I am keenly aware that every discipline approaches this differently and individuals care differing amounts- I have a friend in a PhD program in applied math who you’d be lucky to get in a shirt with collar an cuffs unless he has to, and he doesn’t regardless of teaching responsibilities.But that’s a few parts his personality and a few parts the fact that his discipline just doesn’t require it. Are there stated dress standards in your context? or is it unstated?

There is very little discussion of the male side of workplace dress in the academic context. Is it because it is simpler? or is it because those who care don’t write…? I’d be interested in what you think.

Jensen also cites this great quote to argue that it’s really not that hard!:

As Michael Bérubé says, “[D]ressing fashionably in academia is like clearing the four-foot high jump. The bar is not that high.”

 He proposes, partly tongue in cheek, the Uniform Uniform Code:
Faculty members shall, when on college grounds or on college business, dress in a way that would not embarrass their mothers, unless their mothers are under age 50 and are therefore likely to be immune to embarrassment from scruffy dressing, in which case faculty members shall dress in a way that would not embarrass my mother.

I for one like it!

What I don’t like is Jensen’s suggestion that Emily Toth’s Ms. Mentor’s Impeccable Advice for Women in Academia is the end of all advice on academic dress for women professors:

Some of Ms. Mentor’s more important standards are
1. Avoid poufy sleeves.
2. Dress frumpily.
3. Act like an old fart.

I for one protest! and revolt on a daily basis!

It got me thinking, and without wanting to bandy about terms, how i approach fashion, and the way i dress. Finding the elements of an academic wardrobe has been different to any workplace dressing challenge I’d had previously. Wearing a uniform is kind of a no-brainer and law and politics presents a different daily challenge to the classroom – library- conference – office – departmental function – balls – mix that is my current working situation. I thought I’d share couple of resources i’ve come across lately that have got me thinking about wardrobe in an academic context:
…definitely worth a look. This site is consistently excellent. Its three main protagonists are young women working on their PhDs in the midwest of the USA. It may be slightly limiting because all three are fairly similar – they are all very slim. One recently had a baby and her “preggers” sections offer lots of academic wardrobe ideas for those long maternity months! While most clothes are sourced in the US which is also limiting for those not in the US, one of the three is currently in Germany for an extended period of research and so things are starting to extend beyond being US-centric.

Glamorous Grad Student
This site also has articles about style in various cities around the world – great if you are planning research trips or travel.

The Satorialist
This isn’t an academic fashion blog per se but the photography is beautiful and the people are real! Yep, the Sartorialist started by taking photos of people on the street who he thought were well dressed! GQ, and Style took notice and this former fashion designer is now remedying the disconnect between the couture and the real world. He’s also in Australia at the moment for book-signings at Sass & Bide stores all over the country!

Fashionable Academics
While Academic Chic is far more along my own style lines, this new site focuses on a broader range of styles. The even have posts about male professiorial fashion that goes beyond tweed and turtlenecks (although that’s classic, it doesn’t work on everyone).

What Would a Nerd Wear
Subtitled “An Archive of Grad Student Style” Outfits on this site are generally quite casual – probably more suited for library than teaching and conferences – but with lots of Winter ideas!

Law School Fashionista
This blog presents a different take on the academic wardrobe. Once again, while not my style, there’s alot of exploration of different trends and their applicability to the law school classroom.

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  • Nickolas Streicher

    I wish more individuals would write blogs like this that are actually fun to read. With all the fluff floating around on the web, it’s rare to read a weblog like yours instead. Nickolas Streicher

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