of no fixed subtitle
September 21, 2004
Academic fashion, or lack thereof.
I think my section was beginning to get suspicious when I wore the same thing every time - now they know it's the only decent clothing I own. [via
18 years ago
When I get tenure (in 20 years or more), it's gonna be
Royer every day
. Work pants work shirt construction boots hard hat. And I'll take a pipe wrench to class. Or a shovel. A jackhammer on fridays. I'm gonna buy me a custom shirt: "Intellectual worker", it will say on the back.
This is in no way limited to Profs, the teachers at my HS are just as bad....the younger women and some of the men generally dress like normal human beings, but there are a few who sometimes astound me.
Also, all these Professions Who Dress Better (tm) have, like, something to do with sales. People who work in factories or agriculture dress quite bad, thank you very much.
And about HS teachers with clothes from Hell: My brother once gave a pair of green jeans to me because his sweaty, bearded arts & craft teacher wore the Exact Same Pair. I then proceeded to dress almost exclusively in green for the next 5 years. They used to call me "the green imp".
I do believe that lawyers and office personel are expected to dress better. The big thing is that - there is no dress code. Some departments develop internal culures around dress - some go very formal, some have a taboo against button up shirts, let alone a tie. But others just let the profs (and graduate teachers) wear whatever they want to. And so they do. But what got me really laughing were the descriptions of how people who end up in academics tend to be nerds who have no idea how to follow fashion - and the bits about "costuming" themselves, rather than simply getting dressed, are spot on. (My fiance is always describing his clothes as "a costume" - and he does own more hats than he does pairs of shoes.)
As an academic, I see nothing wrong with jeans and tee-shirts. Anything more complex is more trouble than it's worth. This article required more patience and empathy with the author than I could muster. I am surprised that a tenured English professor would write on such a subfusc topic in such an uncontroversial manner. I give it a B-. (Sorry, jb.)
Well, I'm not an English professor, so I feel no shame in asking you: what does "subfusc" mean? And why should it be controversial? (No offense taken - I was just chuckling from seeing myself in the bad attempts to look decent, and then the complete giving up thereof.)
I wear a t-shirt and shorts (unless it's too cold for shorts) to teach in. I wear that to conferences too. Call me crazy but I got into academia on the theory that it was my brains that mattered not my looks. I wear a tie for no man. I had a prof in my mster's program that would wear bib overalls. He's my idol.
I agree. I'm not sure though, is he saying this is a bad thing, or just a thing you notice when you step back a moment? I myself have started to do this as a GA, and I told my boyfriend that the moment I start wearing clunky anthropologist jewelry, it's time to smack me around. It's scary that you know a woman's a social scientist when she's wearing a certain type of dress or skirt and some awful-looking clay pendants.
[W]hy should it be controversial?
Well, I find these sorts of articles much more engaging if the authors take non-obvious positions. This author never advances her point beyond the basic claim that academics have poor fashion sense. I think everyone can take this as given— how silly it would be to claim otherwise! I kept expecting her to segue into bulleted advice for academics, but she kept her article closely focused on
the problem. Descriptivism is utterly uncalled for when writing about fashion!
i'm rather fond of my hoody (blue bonds zip-up) with 'BAUDRILLARD' in big varsity letters across the front...
If there's a more perfectly sterile formalist than Baudrillard, I do not wish to meet them, still less read them. Why don't people read somebody decent who has the courage to express an honestly held opinion, rather than an empty rhetorical posturing void? Jacques Aumont? Pascal Bonitzer? Serge Daney? Michel Chion? Jean-Louis Leutrat? Understand that with Baudrillard, it's all a pose. Lord, how sick of false irony I am. There is absolutely no fucking there there. Gee whizzer, wow.
I have always been fond of the absent-minded professor image: smoker's pipe, old tweed jacket, patched elbows.
A great topic, but not a very insightful article:
In fact, students don't actually notice how we look. If we showed up in a hairnet and goggles, the undergraduates would still sit there and take notes without flinching, Or reacting. They have no other reference point; they pay attention to us because we are at the front of the room, not because we have made a snazzy impression. They look at us because they have to.
This couldn't be more wrong. Students may not pay much attention to what you are saying, but they pay a great deal of attention to how you look. If you wear the same shirt two days running, or the same tie week after week, or if you let your hair grow just a little too long before you have a haircut, then you may be sure it will be noticed. And talked about. And remembered. Oh yes. I've found it's important to dress quite formally when meeting students. You may think that your open-necked shirt and faded jeans make you appear relaxed, informal and approachable; but your students will regard it as a sign that you don't attach much importance to face-to-face teaching and haven't made much effort to prepare for it. (I am talking here of teaching in the humanities; I can't speak for the sciences, where the dress code may well be different.) On the other hand, I have no patience with people like the writer of this article, who mock academics for their lack of fashion sense. One of the most valuable things about the academic life is that, compared with a lot of other jobs, it gives you a great deal of personal freedom and privacy. For much of the time -- when you're not in lectures, seminars or meetings -- you are free to plan your day and organise your work schedule without a supervisor breathing down your neck. This is true even for an untenured academic like me.
The rest of the professional world dresses better. I've encountered entire academic populations whose clothes are more complex and intriguing than those sported by academics. Grown-ups in other professions must keep up with the times or else they will be laughed out of their conference rooms.
[and so on, and on] To which I reply: fuck that. I'm an academic. I spend most of my day sitting at my computer or working in the library. There is nobody looking over my shoulder. No one is going to fire me because there is a hole in the elbow of my pullover. Why shouldn't I wear what I like? Why the fuck should I have to copy the dress code of "people over thirty who work in public relations"? GIVE ME MY FREEDOM! GIVE ME MY MOTHEATEN OLD PULLOVER! (Note to jb. Confusingly, 'subfusc' has two contradictory meanings. The word itself means 'drab' ('fuscus' is basically the Latin equivalent of beige), so if I saw you walking down Trinity Street in a T-shirt and jeans, I might say to you: "you're looking very subfusc today; are you off to the University Library?" However, 'subfusc' is also the term used for formal academic dress, as (e.g.) worn by undergraduates at Oxford when taking exams; so if I saw you walking down Trinity Street in a white blouse, black skirt, gown and academic hood, I might say to you: "why are you wearing subfusc? are you going to the degree ceremony?" In other words, subfusc is not very subfusc. I hope that makes things clear.)
A wandering minstrel I, A thing of shreds and patches...
could never concentrate when a prof had his fly open for the whole class period. do you profs do that on purpose? are you all conducting some kind of sociological experiment?
The only professor that I can distinctly remember the way he/she dressed, is my math professor. He had the Urban Cowboy look down pat. Western shirt, with piping and studs, tight jeans, cowboy boots and the hat. He wore the hat outside the lecture hall at all times, as far as I could tell. Very easy to spot him on campus. I never paid much attention to how my other professors dressed they just blended with the crowd. But the cowboy guy, him I remember.
It's all self-referential reinforcement. All professors dress weirdly; I am a professor; therefore, I too shall (must!) dress weirdly. You see more of this ("this" being the tendency toward casual dress), I think, in the Humanities than in the Business school. Business professors are more likely to have/still do work also in the business world, where matters of professional dress are more formal. Subsequently, sartorial norms in the business school tend to be a little more formal as well. I've seen many business school professors in suits/ties, whereas the Humanities profs tend a little (ok, a lot) more casual. Really, dress is more about self-perception than it is about other-perception. Only rarely does someone else comment to you about your mode of dress - so long as you are not grossly breaking local convention, the likelihood seems that, regardless of where you stand on the casual-formal spectrum, you will not be challenged. And unless challenged on your sartorial choices, one rarely changes what they feel looks acceptable - they simply find a mode they are comfortable with, and stick with it. I think there is also the unstated assumption that, as academics, as people who live in the world of the mind, outward presetnation simply isn't as important. Know me by my thoughts and idea, not by my seven-fold ties. I think, probably subconsciously, academics may purposefully downgrade their dress habits to emphasize this unspoken idea.
See, every time I walk through campus and see someone in a suit and tie I have to repress the urge to point and laugh and call them suckers. I will admit though that on my student evaluations one student wrote that I needed a haircut. But that was the only negative comment I got last semester, so I guess I can live with that. I'm a 6ft 4 and 220 pound male so I fully admit that gives me a lot more latitude and respect than some of my collegues. I eman I don't know anyone else in my department who wears a "Shut your pie hole" shirt to teach in...
The necktie is the most uncomfortable, useless and stupid piece of men's clothing ever designed. The idea of choking yourself with what looks to be a flat silk penis for eight hours a day is beyond my powers of comprehension.
A necktie is the rope they give you to hang yourself with. I used to have a CS professor who was a great lecturer, but a somewhat sloppy dresser. He always wore a short sleeved button up shirt and dark slacks. At the start of class, he was normal in appearance, but by the end of class, his shirt was untucked, his tshirt was showing, his hair was fried, and sometimes one shoe untied. It was amazing - he looked like he'd been mugged. We could never figure out how he got that way because he was such a good lecturer we weren't paying any attention to the gradual mussing up.
I take great pride in my wardrobe and feel that, as an art historian, I have less of an excuse to not look completely spiffy most of the time. Imagine my horror when, last semester, I stumbled across one of my students' LiveJournal which boldly stated her belief that I was a drag queen (I'm not!). They may not notice there's a test coming up, but SlightlyFoxed is correct: they definitely notice how you look.
About our necks they make us place a strip of cloth quite like a leash; this dangles under our chins and catches egg yolks, gravies, or soups made from cooked peash. I foil them all by wearing turtle necks and teesh.
I must beg to differ regarding the much-maligned tie! While the suit itself, regardless of color or cut, remains essentially the suit, it is the necktie where a man can display an element of much-needed sartorial creativity. Coupling various stripes and patterns against the template of the dress shirt, experimenting with color and texture, all within the basic business framework. Remember - khakis and a blue polo are no less a uniform than the suit, and what's more the casual clothes so often touted by the derisive officeworker not only have less ability for personal expression but also less overall savoire faire. And let me also say that a good suit combines the best aspects of butter and armor - connoting the smooth professionalism and competence of the executive tier, evoking a masculine mein, while at the same time allows multiple avenues for self-expression and (dare I say it?) outright whimsy. Who amongst you naysayers can say that they have layered grey flannel over eye-popping Etro-inspired stripes and a tie of arterial red, pausing only to stuff a dark green paisley brocade pocketsquare salvaged from a wedding tuxedo into the outer pocket, all atop sienna wingtips buffed to high gloss? A "leash"? No - a liberation! Liberation from the vaguely Marxist blandness than marks today's "business casual" wear.
Poetry has indeed made a comeback.
SlightlyFoxed and bibliochick are definately right about students noticing - they may even complain about your clothes on
(if you are in North America). I think that there are uniforms by department, even by field. I had noticed that art historians are almost invariably well-dressed - same goes for political or intellectual historians (who tend to also hang out in galleries) - why is that? Yet at the first social history workshop I ever went to, everyone was dressed down. I had taken nice trousers to wear, but stayed in my jeans when I realised everyone else (including my advisor, who normally wears a suit) was. (It's also one of the reasons I like social history - easier on the clothing budget.)
fuyugare: thanks for the clarification. Slightlyfoxed: I had heard of the Oxbridge meaning of subfusc in passing, but not the other - now both make sense.
Damn I hadn't realized how many other academics are on this site. The great thing about academia is that the more absent minded or even bizzare you act (and dressing poorly is one aspect of that), the smarter students will think that you are. "Professor C came to class in his bathrobe today! He is such a genius!" /loves his job
Firstly, as far as I know, subfusc is a specifically Oxford term for a certain order of dress. I've never heard it used in Cambridge. Secondly, I think jb is right about different fields having a 'uniform'. In my field people tend to put on a tie to lecture, for example, and people tend to dress up somewhat smartly for seminar (the higher status the person, the more smartly they tend to dress). Thirdly, I'd like to say that I rather like dressing up smartly. Part of this, I think, is that I never had a school uniform to beat an appreciation of smart clothes out of me. I still get a childish thrill in getting to pick what I want to wear, and I like to wear things I find fun. And I don't care what anybody says, ties are fun: they look so snappy, and you can wear ties that carry information (kind of like t-shirts with stuff on them, but classier). Finally, I agree that it's creepy when people are forced to wear expensive and uncomfortable clothes to look 'professional'. I always think that politicians end up looking vaguely untrustworthy when they wear those suits with sharp lapels to prove how 'businesslike' they are. HOWEVER, I also think it's hypocritical and just plain anoying when the 'everybody wants to dress down' crowd dig their oar in. You can't symiltaniously argue that everybody should get to wear what makes them comfortable, and also constantly ask somebody what the occasion is because they're not following the jeans and t-shirt herd. If it were up to me, I'd wear cap and gown every day (at least until the novelty wore off), but I'd never get away with it because those who would 'liberate' us from sartorial obligation would snigger at me for being 'pretentious'.
If I ever edit a collection of non-fiction on men's clothing I'm asking Fes to submit an essay.
There are certainly different climates to different departments and universities. A couple years ago there was a small one day conference held at my school. I went to a panel that 2 of my friends were on and the 3rd panelist was from a different school. The 3 of us had long hair and facial hair. The other guy had a short haircut, was clean shaven and had a suit on. One of these things is not like the other... Of course I like to think my friends papers were more interesting than that guy's but I may be biased.
ah, how i regret such things as work and sleep... Wolof: Baudrillard
a sterile formalist. That's why I love him. Without wanting to delve too deeply here, JB engages with the way we imagine ourselves and examines how that reconfigures the space of our 'real'. Mcluhan, Baudrillard, Virilio - they tackle the way we've shaped ourselves through the everpresent screen. Not the shallow word-games of Derrida or Deleuze!
I'm imagining that you must be referring to Baudrillard, not me, since my writing doesn't engage with anything except boredom.
whoops. many appy-pally-loggies, mr jb sir!
Pris, have you read Baudrillard's
? It describes his relation to the real rather well.
posted by tracicle at 07:17AM UTC on September 22
For the record, I find women wearing ties to be both professional and
fashionable. Especially when their worn on the neck as opposed to on a suit.
their = they're doh!
I like being called sir. And I like wearing ties, but when I do, I like to pretend to be intellechewal and transgressive by wearing them with a t-shirt and overalls. And this is totally off topic, but I have to share. I've been having computer problems, so I wasn't prepared as I should have been for section today - but I don't care, because they laughed at my jokes! I can't believe it - I'm still in shock. The one about Henry VIII and his "I am big" portrait, even the one about the debate on the rise of the gentry! (I know I always laugh about the rise of the gentry, but it's sort of an inside joke.)
Way to go jb! Now you need to start accessorising with a wig and floppy shoes. :-)