As I type this (or at least as I start to type this), Larry Sanger is talking at the symposium I’m attending on wikis and stuff, and (obviously) my mind is drifting a bit. I will probably have to write something more thoughtful about the events surrounding Sanger’s visit later.
Anyway, while that was going on, I stumbled across “A Call for Professional Attire” by Erik M. Jensen in Inside Higher Ed. Basically, he’s pointing out the long-standing bad dress of most academics. It’s kind of a funny piece, one that I don’t agree with generally speaking, but amusing and thought provoking nonetheless, and there are lots of good comments on the article.
As far as my own fashion senses (or lack thereof) go, a couple of thoughts in no particular order:
- I have gone through various phases of professional dress in my academic career. At Southern Oregon, where outdoorsy wear was the main wardrobe for everyone, even deans, I went through a period where I showed up in a tie. The reasons for this were complicated, but they included being on the job market. A few years ago here, I went through a phase where I wore a coat and tie, in part again because I was sort of on the job market, and in part because I realized I had all these clothes in the closet that I wasn’t wearing.
- My current dress mode is something along the lines of khakis or nice jeans, a golf shirt or a button-down shirt, often with a sweater in cooler weather, nice quasi-walking/hiking shoes or deck shoes or Doc Martin-esque shoes– kind of “business casual light.” I think I am in this place in my life and career where I’ve taken sort of a Martha Stewart attitude toward fashion. Like Martha, I see myself as always dressed about the same, yet always kind of casual but able to fit in all but the most formal or most casual settings. And, like Martha (I presume, though we’ve never really talked about this), I’ve taken this approach because I frankly have better things to worry about.
- Professorial dress code, IMO, depends a lot on context. I don’t teach lecture hall classes, but if I did, I’d dress up. If I was a dean or department head or something like that, I’d dress up. But I don’t. I teach online or I teach in small groups, so I don’t think the “gravitas” of a coat and tie matters that much. I think there are two possible exceptions to this: first, younger/more junior instructors probably get more mileage out of dressing up. Second, it probably helps for the instructor to dress up a bit more for classes like first year composition. But those are both just guesses/assumptions on my part.
- What I think Jensen is missing here is that the reason why professors dress as casually as they do is because they can, and if people in the “real world” of felt-lined cubicals and the like could, they’d wear jeans and a sweater and sneakers to work every day too.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to put on some sweats and do some online teaching….