20 August 2009

August 21st, 2009 § 42 comments

20 August 2009, originally uploaded by academichic.


All remixed


Why I wore what I wore:

Being rather pleased with yesterday’s outcome, I decided to try another monochromatic non-neutral with a neutral base – purple, purple, purple!  The necklace is one of the earrings S. gave me for being her “best woman” worn as a pendant.  This is a remixed trick that lets me wear my favorite jewelry more often.

Purple Purple Purple, originally uploaded by academichic.

What I thought about as I wore it:

Last night I caught up with my childhood best friend, which was wonderful! She had heard through the family  grapevine that I had a blog and had checked it out.  While she was very complimentary, I have to admit my first instinct was to be embarrassed and that initial feeling has had me thinking all night and all day.  My family knows about the blog, increasingly more friends know about it, and because it’s on the world wide web, more people with random connections to my non-blog life are discovering us.  Yet, no one from my academic life (outside of S. and E. of course) know about the blog.  Why? Because fashion and style are considered frivolous.  We are suppose to be concerned with much more important things and I guess I assume professors and even colleagues would consider this a silly waste of time. Threadbared recently wrote a thoughtful and stimulating post on this very topic in which they also address the gendered and sexist aspects of academia’s fraught relationship with fashion.

I think as a feminist, my love of fashion might be further seen as contradictory.  We begin to address this in our State of the Field and it is a topic the three of us continue to discuss amongst ourselves, but I would love to open this issue up to our always insightful readers.

My active involvement in the LGBT political and academic communities adds an extra layer of tension to self-styling.  I find there are expectations for how I should physically present myself and often incorrect assumptions are made based on my appearance.

On our post on male academic style reader H. left a thought provoking comment about the gendered concerns of wearing an engagement ring in academia.   What does our clothing and jewelry say to our colleagues and superiors about our commitment to our work, our politics, etc.  While I don’t have an engagement ring, I would like to say that in regards to all of the above, I have tried to make it my policy that I will wear what makes me feel most comfortable and confidant, yet I have to admit I do often find myself wondering what my clothing says about me and hoping that the message I set out with is the one conveyed.

Do you feel pressure to look a certain way because of your job, your political leanings, your commitments to family or a particular community?

Do you find that colleagues or strangers make unfair or incorrect assumptions about you based on your style?

20 August 2009, originally uploaded by academichic.

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§ 42 Responses to 20 August 2009"

  1. Kim says:

    This is a really thought-provoking topic. I also work at a university, the University of South Carolina to be specific. Not only is there an unwritten dresscode of what is considered “appropriate” but being in a Southern, conservative town adds even more pressure to that. I believe this might have been the last place to grasp desperately to the idea of pantyhose being required (though thank God that’s finally over) and I think it’ll probably be like this for a long time.

  2. N. says:

    This is a very thought-provoking post!

    I think it’s interesting because as academics we pretend that people just respect us for our brains and that it doesn’t matter how we look or how we dress. In fact, if we seem to care TOO MUCH about how we look/dress it says something about of lack of brains. Yet, as women we are socialized by our culture into thinking the exact opposite: you are what you wear. This makes for an interesting tension for female academics.

    I have seen this in action as there is a female faculty member in my department who spends a lot of time on her appearance (or seems to, when compared with other faculty members). Despite her publishing, she is treated as a flake. (To be fair, she IS a little on the forgetful side– but I think her appearance contributes to the negative opinion, rather than just the old “absent minded professor” trope).

    I have to say, though, I think this might be changing with younger academics entering departments. There are some new faculty– male and female– in my dept who definitely focus on their fashion and dress, discuss it, and model it (one of them announces “Today this lecture is brought to you by Prada” before beginning his class. He is also one of the demanding professors in our dept.). However, these faculty members are also AWARE of their self-presentation and use it as a tool in the classroom (to discuss identity, class, gender, etc. ). So, I think (at least in the humanities) things are starting to change slightly… clothes are costumes. They don’t define WHO you are– but they DO project something of yourself out to world around you… the best part is that they can be CHANGED!

    On a personal note, as a graduate student I have always dressed “professionally” when I teach simply because it makes me more comfortable and confident in front of the classroom. I also happen to wear all black (and have done so for the past 15 years of my life). I didn’t really think this mattered or anyone really cared… until my advisor mentioned it… and suggested that I consider a “pop of color” once in a while.

    Honestly, I was shocked. He’s not supposed to pay attention to anything but my brain!! But I think it’s naive of us to think otherwise… and while I was, at the moment, slightly offended at his fashion advice… he was right. Monochrome with a pop of color is the way to go! :)

    P.S. There is a book called “Never A Dull Moment: Teaching and the Art of Performance” by Brandeis Women’s Studies Faculty Jyl Lynn Felman. There is an interesting section there on fashion in the classroom!

  3. hillary says:

    Yes my coworkers totally unfairly judge me. I have worked at the same place for 3.5 years. I work in a university library. Now I only altered the way I dressed about a year ago. My coworkers make unfair comments regarding my clothing as if I am not the brightest. Now none of this happened in my previous 2.5 years when I dressed more muted and to be frank, boring. I don’t dress how they think a librarian should dress (but I am always professional, covered up and appropriate mind you) but I don’t dress in ill fitting synthetic fabric with nylons so I must be stupid they think.

  4. Franca says:

    Hi, great post. I haven’t really experienced this too much. I work in social research in government, a female dominated profession with relatively little external contacts. There is a very diverse range of how people dress, some people are very casual, others very business chic. I haven’t noticed too much difference in the way these different people are treated.

    That said, my personal style is very colourful and playful, and when I used to wear this type of thing to work, a lot of people thought I was a lot more junior than I am (although I always managed to convince them otherwise in the end!). I am trying to dress more smart/professionally as a result and keep the madder outfits for the weekend.

  5. Colleen says:

    I work in a research/academia hybrid environment (my lab is at a hospital but we have a university affiliation). Initially I erred on the side of professionalism – lots of collared shirts and pencil skirts. Now I dress a little more colorful, individual, and young. I haven’t gotten any negative feedback because of it – in fact, I get a lot more compliments on my more creative outfits – but maybe it’s because I proved myself as an employee before I got more playful with my fashion. The one thing that has changed is that participants in our study tend to guess my age as younger than I am, often asking me if I’m a student (I’m 24). I really don’t take offense to it because now that I’m mid 20s (eek, when did that happen) and contemplating many more years of education as I apply to Ph.D. programs, I would prefer to not look my age by the time I graduate!

  6. Sara says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this issue recently and again. When I was in graduate school, I felt like I was the freak for dressing the way I did (especially when I wore heels – good grief when I wore heels, the conversations they’d create). It seemed much more acceptable and certainly more understandable to just not care. But I just couldn’t not care.

    So I thought then, and I’ve been thinking again, about what it means to care about my presentation. Is it frivolous? Is it a waste of time? Is it for me or for other people? Too, I’ve been thinking about what it means to blog about one’s presentation. Is that more of a waste of time? Is it vain or self-serving? Or, as I tend to see it, does it contribute to the ongoing conversation that those of us who do care about fashion and presentations are having?

    I’m having a hard time getting my thoughts out on the subject, but it’s so great to hear that I’m not the only one who is considering it. Fantastic post and definitely food for more thought! Thank you for it!

    By the way, I LOVE this outfit. The shades of purple look great on you!

  7. These types of questions are exactly what led me to search out ‘academic fashion’ blogs… only to discover that, other than you all (yay!), that term is somewhat of an oxymoron.

    After nine years of jeans & clogs, or field clothes, as a grad student, I’ve got my first teaching job… and am wondering how to dress for it. I want to take it up a notch from the jeans, but don’t want to look like a banker or a lawyer. If there were clear expectations, it would be so much easier. I’ve definitely spent as much time trying to figure out what to wear as I did on my cover letter ;-)

    At the same time, there are all these *upspoken* expectations. When I started grad school, after resigning from a professional position, I ofter wore grey flannel trousers and little flats… but then I was too dressed up! I learned to tone down my wardrobe, and now I’m trying to rev it up again.

  8. Diana says:

    I love this beautiful purple outfit!

    I’m hoping to start working in the school system before long, and I have wondered how style blogging and work will go together. Will I feel weird if students see my blog? If parents see it? Will my principal think that I don’t take my job seriously enough if they see my blog? It’s so interesting how social networking and online presence have completely changed the dynamics of our lives.

  9. Krissie says:

    Really great thought-provoking post and something I think about often.

    Whether we like it or not, looks and appearance play a huge role in our society today. As academics you are supposed to look and dress a certain way and even more so, not care about the way you look, as you’re supposed to be devoting your time to “more important things.”

    As a business professional who works in Corporate America (and went to Barnard College… so an academic at heart and feminist), I too am supposed to look and dress a certain way, but interestingly the same biases apply. Check out this WSJ article from a few months back about the dress code for women working at hedge funds http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123863590242781251.html… and then check out the comments: “these women are focused on the wrong things. Do a good job, deliver great results. Let your work speak for itself.” If only it were that easy. Unfortunately, the way we dress and put ourselves together is incredibly important and for someone to say otherwise is naïve. Studies have been done that show that entry-level salaries are higher for those who make a better physical impression and that those who dress better at work are more likely to get promoted.

    But putting all that aside, shouldn’t we all want to be the best, most fully rounded people we can be? I know that when I get dressed in the morning and put some thought, consideration and personality into my outfit, I feel more confident, enthusiastic and inspired. I could just throw on a different suit every day (like many women in my office do) but that would bore me to tears in the same way that choosing the “I don’t care” stereotypical academic look would likely drive you crazy.

    So… embrace looking good because guess what—the number of academicians you’re inspiring to dress better probably far outweighs those who are questioning your smarts because of the way you dress.

  10. Doctoressa says:

    What I really like about this post is that it articulates how many different people we’re all dressing for, all the time. We dress for colleagues and for lovers – for students and supervisors – for friends and family. And just as often as we dress to conform, we might also dress to challenge others’ ideas of us. Subversive dress can go a long way in shaking up ideals of what a professor looks like, or what a mom looks like, or what a lesbian looks like, and therefore shake up assumptions about that category in general. Judith Butler’s _Gender Trouble_ helped me to see why I was dressing “inappropriately” at times, wearing high heels to the playground, for example.

    In some ways, the academy gives much wider latitude to both men and women than do other professions of similar educational and salary standards. I have taught in large universities and in small colleges. In both, I’ve had male colleagues who wear a suit and tie everyday, or jeans and hiking boots. My female colleagues adopt uniforms of floaty natural fabrics or avant-garde Japanese fashion. Representing one’s own personal style is a possibility in the academy to a degree that is pretty unbelievable for our friends in law, banking, or medicine.

    So if we have this freedom, why do so few of us seize it?

    “The Great Masculine Renunciation” theory (See David Kuchta’s _The Three-Piece Suit and Modern Masculinity_) explained that men renounced fashion in seventeenth- and eighteenth- century Britain to demonstrate their objectivity, their dispassion, and their remove from worldly concerns like fashion. In this manner, men made a bid for political power independent of the king and court. As a result, fashion became feminized, and women were long excluded from politics for being too subject to whimsy and emotion. Academics maintain these prejudices, although we know that anti-fashion is just as much a choice (and an economic investment) as is fashion. So clearly, within this paradigm the most subversive thing that a thinking, voting woman can do is to dress carefully and beautifully!

  11. Patricia says:

    Hi there, I am not an academic, in fact I am a SAHM which often in itself brings all sorts of attitude from people concerning my intelligence. However, I believe that when people take an obvious pride in their appearance and dress to accent their positives that shows they are intelligent enough to give the best presentation. Showing up for work in sloppy and unattractive clothing only tells me you were too lazy too care and that reflects on your abilities as well. We should all be smart enough to applaude people for living true to themselves and not conforming to some preconceived idea of what an academic type (or a mom) should look like. Learning to dress well is an art and should be appreciated in others who learn to do it well.

  12. Sal says:

    A former professor wrote about how she basically CHOSE to stop worrying about style, weight, and even grooming because she was so shunned by her colleagues. I think her situation was a bit extreme, but am interested to hear that you and others have felt pressure to focus less on your looks.

    I think that any and everyone with an interest in style and fashion should feel proud and empowered, since looking good helps us to FEEL good about ourselves, inside and out. My recent guest post over at The Coveted touches on this:

  13. Luinae says:

    Interesting- I often feel the pressure to conform to certain trends, probally because I am in high school and everything is about trends. Personal style is incredibly rare, and what I wear often comes under attack.

  14. Elena says:

    This is definitely thought-provoking, but it also makes me feel grateful to only be at the Master’s level (just because, in this environment, I’ve never felt any conflict with being a feminist/a grad student who enjoys clothing). Other than taking out my tiny nose stud when working with clients, I don’t really make any adjustments. Adhering to a dress code of sorts in the clinic doesn’t really bother me; I wouldn’t wear shorts and a tank top to interact with clients anyway, and it’s easy to make a pretty knee-length dress/accessories or black walking shorts/colorful fitted t-shirt fit the guidelines…there’s enough flexibility to keep me from feeling too controlled.

    And I can’t even imagine not wearing an engagement ring (if I had one). But perhaps that’s the difference between Master’s and PhD…? I would certainly say it’s a different level of commitment but don’t have enough knowledge of the dynamics of a PhD program to understand why that would matter. I’m definitely intrigued!

    Love the purple. :)

  15. Jane W. says:

    What a thought-provoking topic. I have an M.A. in American Studies and my thesis integrated ethnography, art history and women’s studies.

    I definitely noticed the dynamic you’re talking about, but it varied from department to department. In art history and anthropology, it was okay to care about your appearance (as part of your interest in “material culture”) as long as your clothing and accessories were not from big-box retailers or department stores. But thrifting aside, I was not exactly in position to buy $100 earrings from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In women’s studies it was okay as long as your clothing had an element of “irony.”

    I’ve also seen the whole “clothing is frivolous” judgement outside of academia. My mother-in-law was raised in a very strict Catholic family and caring about your appearance was viewed as selfish and against the all-sacrificing ideal presented for women.

    Finally, the RE director at our church belongs to “Queer Femmes Unite” on Facebook because she’s tired of being told that she doesn’t “look lesbian enough.”

    It’s easy to see how these pressures originate, but that doesn’t make them any less sad in my book.

    Keep on rocking the purple!

  16. Kaylyn says:

    It seems we all have a lot to say on this topic…
    I definitely feel the need to kind of “dumb it down” with my wardrobe at work. I don’t feel comfortable coming to my work in that great new pencil skirt and shiny perfect heels with accessories piled on the way I like because I feel like the super casual atmosphere of my office will not accept the way I prefer to dress. Also, there is a giant hill to my office that makes walking in heels impossible and I simply refuse to walk in flats and bring my heels with me because my office isn’t in an office setting. We run out of the owners house and I just feel strange lugging my fancy (but not spendy) shoes into a house where I’m likely to just walk around barefoot all day. I know I should dress the way I want because it’s what I like but I have this thing in my head that my co-workers would think less of me if I went all out all the time. They see people that “dress up” as shallow and superficial. I don’t want them to see me that way but I should know that they KNOW I’m not those things. I’ve been there 4 years now and I know that even my super casual laid back outfits now are miles apart from the ones I wore when I was just starting out.
    I’m babbling… I just wanted to say, I definitely feel pressure to dress a certain way because of where I work and who I work with. I think that if I were allowed to work from home my daily outfits would be so much different.
    Thanks for always keeping us thinking and always looking so awesome and inspiring great outfits!

  17. H. says:

    Thanks for including my somewhat rambling post in such an interesting discussion. Your posts and the comments have been fascinating to read because I bet many of us posting here would say that we dress for ourselves. But maybe we have many different roles or versions of ourselves that we dress for. I also loved S’s inclusion of her research into her post yesterday–a good reminder that academia and fashion are not antithetical, and that perhaps sometimes our work can benefit from some of the playfulness that we bring to our wardrobes!

  18. Michelle says:

    The “I don’t care” aesthetic is so prevalent at all levels of academia, it occupies a significant place in the culture. It sometimes seems as though academics sublimate their own identities in order to emphasize their intelligence, learning, or focus on their students (it’s not about ME…). I have taught at high schools for over 20 years, and have never seen such a consistently badly-dressed group of people, regardless of gender. I make the effort to dress well and fashionably, and I know I stand out clearly amongst my colleagues. Partly that’s just me the clotheshorse, but I also think it sets a good example for my students. Now, I do teach graphic design, so maybe I am perceived as having more leeway, or more focus on the visual; but in an academic profession that is largely female, I find it frequently depressing to look around me. Clothing IS costume. Costume defines character, purpose, power and status. It is such a significant cultural indicator that I find it hard to understand why so many choose – or pretend – to ignore it. We all of us judge things visually, at least at first.
    You look lovely in the purple – I’d totally wear that outfit :)

  19. Elizabeth Ann says:

    I was briefly engaged last summer before we mutually realized that marriage just wasn’t for us. As a PhD student in a fairly feminist friendly department I spent much of the engagement period trying to figure out the “ring situation.” I was horrified at the thought of showing up for classes (both as student and teacher) with that thing on my hand for all to see, but maybe that’s why we ended up calling off the wedding (though not the relationship).

    On the other hand, a female colleague of mine had a problem a few semesters back with a male student whose comments to her after class had taken on a completely inappropriate sexual nature. When she mentioned this to her adviser (male, late 30s to early 40s) he suggested that she (and I swear I’m not making this up) wear less color and dress more like an elementary school teacher. I have no idea if he intended it this way, but his advice suggested that she was somehow responsible for the behavior of her student. I certainly think that certain styles and outfits aren’t appropriate in a classroom setting, but that’s a far cry from saying “make yourself intentionally unattractive and never wear color.”

    Attitudes in academia maybe changing, but progress is slow.

  20. [...] today’s outfit falls somewhere in between S.’s soft, sophisticated neutral looks and A.’s bright layers of color. It took a while for me to accept the idea of wearing white and cream at the same time, but on this [...]

  21. MBZ says:

    Ah… my dear young things… Fashion IS frivolous. SO WHAT. Isn’t golf, football, motorboats, stamp collecting… whatever it is others do in their spare time equally feather-brained!!??

    Yes, you will be judged. Little has changed in the past 40 years. But I’d sure like to believe that us older, “vintage” Feminists paved a smoother road for those that follow.

    Please never be embarrassed by your lovely blog. It’s a delightful amusement that should give you nothing but pride and enjoyment. If anyone should cast a negative glance your way, flash them your best Katherine Hepburn smile and banish their image to oblivion :)
    You will need to wear your brilliance and confidence on the outside, as your best accessory, if you plan to wear clothes that set you apart from the herd.

    All that said, you’ll also need to keep the prose polished. Too many mistakes makes you look… well…. feather-brained :)
    Go fix:

    that “let’s” me
    a silly “waist” of time
    I find “their” are expectations

  22. Nadine says:

    I love the colour in this outfit! I really like dressing this way myself. I also like the way your grey skirt looks purple in the photos.

    Now. ‘Frivolity’. Hmm. I don’t think dressing nicely is frivolous AT ALL. I think being well presented and looking your best is common courtesy. People have to look at you, might as well make it as pleasant an experience as possible. Being scruffy or dowdy shows a lack of respect for both yourself and those around you. The attitude of one’s body just being a vehicle for one’s brain really irritates me! Here we all are, alive and breathing, blessed with minds AND bodies. What glory and good fortune! Why dismiss physical appearance, such a fundamental part of yourself?

  23. Dawn says:

    Great post A! Some wonderful and interesting points raised, and I love your writing style!

    Anyway, I do feel pressure from other people about the way in which I dress. I am often made feel as though I am dressed up way too much or that my interest in fashion is frivolous and silly.

    In the last year as an undergrad, I’ve had people make comments to me about being overdressed when I could be wearing something smart casual- dress, tights and shoes- which makes me feel really awkward and out of place. However I have came to realise recently that perhaps it is not my issue but perhaps they feel underdressed or unstylish… perhaps.

    Last Christmas, a very good friend whom I lived with at the time told me my interest in fashion was wasteful and stupid, which irritated me so much. Now I like shopping quite a lot, I love dressing in a manner that suits my body and style but I haven’t managed to pauper myself pursuing this interest.

    In my personal life, the biggest confusion and pressure comes from my mountain biking club and the sport in general. I am the only girl in the club at the moment and for most of the past four years. I’ve known most of the club members for those years and they first met me when I was a tomboy in baggy jeans, so my transformation into a stylish woman was sometimes met with confusion and ridicule. I think they’ve moved past that now and realised that I’m still the same person but in nicer clothes. The other pressure from the sport comes from people either meeting me whilst on the bike or doing something bike-related and assuming I’m a complete tomboy, or people who meet me in my normal clothes and then don’t believe that I’m a mountain biker. Talk about stereotypes!

    In terms of academia, I haven’t gotten much pressure from my lecturers. I would say I’ve probably gotten more attention from them as I look a bit more prepared and pulled together than some of my classmates. Also lecturers seem to remember me more often now as the girl with the short hair, sharp tongue and the dress. I have gotten some very nasty words about fashion, intellect and identity from another student in a tutorial. The girl didn’t like me very much anyway (I had criticised her presentation in a previous tutorial) and we were talking about Marxist theory about consumption, consumerism, fashion and identity. She went off on a rant about how women who are interested in fashion are shallow, stupid, lacking personalities, using clothes as armour- typical first glance, never bothered actually looking at the issues sort of analysis. I defended fashion by bringing into the idea of identity expression and ripped her argument to bits (vicious stuff in my tutorials anyway!) Her opinion just startled me as I always thought that the younger generation of undergrads would be far more open-minded about style. Funnily enough, the top grades in the class went to myself and another really stylish girl.

  24. Rose says:

    First of all, this is one of my favorite outfits that you have worn A. The purples are so beautiful on you and gray is such a great neutral to pair with purple.

    Second, I have also experienced the same “looking down” upon in my job as a teacher leader for caring about how I look and for my love of shoes. I have also experienced some of the embarrassment about my new blog. I am very open about having the blog with my friends and co-workers that I am friends with. My family also knows about my blog, but I waited to tell my husband. I know that sounds silly, but I also knew he would think that it was a silly thing to do. When I did talk to him about it (only a week after I started it), he did comment that he thinks it is silly and will chuckle when I take my pictures in the morning, he has been supportive.

  25. almostABD says:

    but this goes both ways. academia is embedded in a much larger culture that is OBSESSED with women’s self presentation and appearance and MARGINALIZES women who don’t get into it (or behind it, or however you want to put it). for some women it’s NICE to be someplace where they can wear clogs and jeans or no makeup or whatever and not feel as scrutinized as they do elsewhere. and, likewise, non-normative physical expressions–tattoos, weird hair, piercings–can, in some cases, be a lot more accepted. i mean, you’re all very stylish, and in academia that’s aberrant, but at the end of the day, aren’t you also giving into the demands the larger culture puts on you? i mean, if you’re into it, GREAT. if it feels freeing to you, AWESOME. but surely you must realize that this is one of the few places that women might complain that caring about their appearance is frowned upon?

  26. almostABD says:

    “Being scruffy or dowdy shows a lack of respect for both yourself and those around you.”

    this is what i’m talking about. this kind of stuff is just as judgmental in the other direction, and frankly, MUCH more common for women to experience.

  27. Anna says:

    To begin, I should say that I am not an academic, I received my BA in May. I found this blog because I like fashion, and I kept reading it because I liked all of your fashion senses as well as a writing style that managed to be fun, friendly, and thought provoking.

    My response to this post and the comments is that it’s all relative. Is fashion frivolous to a group of academics? Probably. But you know what? I am an English major daughter of a CPA and a nurse, trying to break into fields like advertising and PR. I am here to tell you that outside of academia, the Humanities are considered pretty damn frivolous too! I have actually been told during interviews that I wasted my intelligence, money, and time on “useless” and “frivolous” “fun.”

    I guess what I’m trying to say, is that people DO judge others, and fashion is just one of many ways. I firmly believe that people should do whatever makes them most happy, confident, and comfortable.

    During my Women’s Studies classes, many discussions among my peers suggest that my generation believes the focus in modern feminism should be on choice and balance. There needs to be a comfortable place between the extremes of the “smart, unattractive girl” and “pretty, dumb girl” cliches. I think your blog helps facilitate the discussion toward reaching that balance.

    Oh and A., my freshman year, I took an Art History class. The professor who taught it would exude praise for artists like Jackson Pollack, Piet Mondrian, and Roy Lichtenstein. However, I had a hard time taking her discussion of their use of color seriously, because all she ever wore was lots and lots of black. It just seemed hypocritical. Now that I understand the politics of academia a bit more it makes sense, but as a student, I think you’re on the right track :)

  28. Katie says:

    Wonderful post! I just discovered your blog today and I am absolutely ecstatic. I am a math/english double (lowly undergrad) who is also obsessed with fashion. Being able to compare the attitudes toward fashion and appearance–as well as the reactions to my own outfits–in the two departments is quite interesting.

    I’m a take-no-prisoners dresser. I will absolutely wear my skin tight black mini with my favorite oversized plaid shirt and studded ankle boots if that’s what makes me happy that morning. In the english department (where most of my classmates and professors are female), it almost seems to earn me a bit of respect. People first notice the outfit and seem to react like I’m going to be punky or pretentious, but when we start having a conversation, the fashion becomes negligible.

    In the math department, it means I’m obviously a full-blown idiot. When there are other women in my classes, the relationship can go one of two ways: 1) we are immediate best friends because we wear makeup and take math classes, or 2) we hate each other because I’m the stupid girl in makeup who asks the brilliant frumpy-looking one how to do problem #5. As for the men, they usually want to stare at me, maybe offer to help me with the homework, or completely ignore me because they figure that’s what I’d do to them (by far the likeliest of the three options). And I do have to work three times as hard to earn the respect of my professors (which often seems futile as well; having to work hard at math must mean you’re really really bad).

    (And let me clarify here that, upon further reflection, I am also completely guilty of these attitudes. Who among us isn’t?)

    I started this response thinking I was going to sum up with something to the effect of: “so long as you own it, who gives a shit?” However, after describing my own fashion encounters, I give a shit. A women who takes ownership of her femininity is welcomed into the lower end of the humanities (i.e., a female english major undergrad is widely accepted now whereas a fashion-conscious female english professor might be met with a different attitude entirely). On the other hand, a woman who presents herself as such has no place in the “hard sciences.” For years women were kept out of academia and told that they had no place in theory. We’re not out of academia anymore, but there’s still no place for a full-blown woman in math or physics. I could go on for days about the sexism of the scientific method, but I’m sure you girls have all given that some thought before. Time to revolutionize the way we think about the sciences. English isn’t strictly poetry and pansy stuff and math certainly isn’t only strict rules and guidelines with a set process. There’s so much crossover in the ways that we think, I wish each would be given more credit.

    Ultimately, I believe that this focused discussion that you’ve opened up here is just shedding light on the larger problems of attitudes in how we think about the world. Time to toss out the patriarchal, 1800′s-esque view of acquiring knowledge and using said knowledge.

    But I still don’t know how that means I should dress. I guess I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing. Once I graduate, I’m sure I’ll tone it down a bit. Maybe no more body-con mini dresses, but I’m still going to put on something that makes me feel beautiful in the morning. When I’m on point with how I’m presenting myself to the world, that’s when I know I can deal with whatever bullshit it throws at me.

  29. T says:

    This reminds me of a quotation from Eva Ibbotson’s novel Madensky Square, describing one of the characters: “She wants a better world for the poor and oppressed–and she wants to look pretty while she’s getting it–and don’t we all?”

    I am two decades older than you, and left academia long ago. You will be judged your whole life on almost every aspect of your life. What neighborhood you live in, how many children you have, what you do for a living, where you shop for groceries, what kind of car you drive, and yes, what you wear. Make yourself happy. Do what works for you. Have fun with your clothes. I think you all look darling, and your blog has given me new ways to think about my own existing wardrobe. If you approach all aspects of your life with the same thoughtfulness you put into your clothes (and somehow I think you do), you are model citizens indeed.

    Thanks for sharing!!

  30. U says:

    I recently went on an Interview at a university. The PI looked at my ring finger and said “oh you are married…is that going to keep you from putting 100% at your job?” I was shocked to hear that. I’m not sure if this is a typical question women being asked in the workforce. But I wondered if she (yes the PI was a women) would ask same question to a guy wearing wedding band. I also wonder if a guy wearing prada suit would be questioned in same way as a woman in prada. since that interview I’ve been on 3 more interviews and at each one of them my wedding band was noticed.

  31. AcademicUnchic says:

    AlmostABD says:
    [“but this goes both ways. academia is embedded in a much larger culture that is OBSESSED with women’s self presentation and appearance and MARGINALIZES women who don’t get into it (or behind it, or however you want to put it). for some women it’s NICE to be someplace where they can wear clogs and jeans or no makeup or whatever and not feel as scrutinized as they do elsewhere. and, likewise, non-normative physical expressions–tattoos, weird hair, piercings–can, in some cases, be a lot more accepted. i mean, you’re all very stylish, and in academia that’s aberrant, but at the end of the day, aren’t you also giving into the demands the larger culture puts on you? i mean, if you’re into it, GREAT. if it feels freeing to you, AWESOME. but surely you must realize that this is one of the few places that women might complain that caring about their appearance is frowned upon?”]

    As someone who even grew up on a campus I have to say that for much of my life I really enjoyed the privilege of not having my appearance matter as much as my brains or actions – a HUGE contrast to non-campus life (where I did and do feel that women are constantly evaluated for their looks and not much else). For me though, the pendulum had swung too far in that direction. Even though I took a great deal of pleasure in the visual arts, it was as though I had never paid any attention to my own proportions or the colors of my clothes or the optical illusion created by the clothes I wore. Now, even if I am no style maven, I am at least waaaay more aware of the visual effect created by wearing t-shirt x with pants y.

    Later AlmostABD writes:
    [“Being scruffy or dowdy shows a lack of respect for both yourself and those around you.”
    this is what i’m talking about. this kind of stuff is just as judgmental in the other direction, and frankly, MUCH more common for women to experience.”]

    I can no longer recall where I read the line you quote, but it made me gnash my teeth and think “respect! respect!??!” What a life of privilege the writer must lead.

  32. N. says:

    @ u:

    Regarding your interview and the comment about the wedding ring– I am not sure where you are interviewing, but in the U.S. that line of questioning in an interview is illegal and unethical, as are questions about your ethnicity, socio-economic class, race, religion, and sexuality.

    If I were you I would think of a pointed remark for such moments, or consult an employment lawyer for advice.

  33. I’m not an academic – I’m a lawyer who hates dressing like one. I love reading your blog because I can take some of the ideas and work them into my wardrobe while still looking “business professional” or at least a few steps above business casual. I work for a local government and we don’t have a dress code other than no jeans Monday – Thursday and it seems like I can “get away” with a lot more than I thought. I’ve been really into wearing complimentary colors and trying some triads lately – it might be boring black bottoms, but at least there’s some color going on up top!

    I worried a lot when I started this job about how I’d be perceived. I got my JD at 24 and I’m not only young for an attorney, but young for the field that I’m in. I dressed pretty seriously (black, navy, or grey suit and white or blue oxford) for the first few months and now that people have felt me out I’m starting to have fun with my wardrobe more. I once had opposing counsel complain to a judge that my green cashmere sweater, pink oxford, and grey trousers weren’t appropriate for court (what?) but the judge didn’t take it seriously. I spend so much time at work that I’m grateful I can express myself a little bit and am trying to stop worrying about what other attorneys think so much.

  34. the spanish lady says:

    good evening,

    well, in my first day at the law faculty, a professor said that we not only had to be jurists, we had to look like one of them. As he was a pretty unkind person I did not pay much attention to him, but as the time went by I understood that if I wanted to be taken seriously I had to dress in a way that made him wonder that I might had something important to say and I started to dress up. Later I relaxed a bit and I started to wear some funny and colorful complements which were more like me.

    Nowadays I thank him because I do believe that the people pay more attention to those who look “nice”. And that if you wear with high stilettos or with an orange pashmina it is not something bad, it means that you are happy with yourself and feel comfortable enough to wear such things.

    Here in Spain there are a lot of women at the government and they all are giving a very important lesson of style. they were very critisized because they appeared a few years ago in a vogue illustrated report (it was said that they were more focused on their bags that on their political issues). No one of them apollogized for it and I think this was very important for all the 21st century women.

    As always, I hope you do not have problems with my English. Con cariño, teresa.

  35. Dottie says:

    What a great discussion here! When I was a law firm attorney (until two weeks ago) I wore business suits every day and was very careful not to feel like I was putting myself on display. Many outfits that looked great on me in the dressing room I did not buy for that reason. I rarely wore suits outside of the office, though. First, they’re not great on bikes. Second, they do not reflect my personal style at all, and I don’t want to constantly remind my cool friends that I had sold out to the Man :)

    A lot of people don’t know about my blog, either. I would be uncomfortable with most co-workers reading it. I’ve been joking with Trisha that we should start calling it our “website,” which sounds more serious than “blog.”

  36. [...] I got dressed this morning and traveled to school, I found myself thinking about all of your great comments on Friday’s post.  Many of you commented that you feel you are always dressing for a number of people and are [...]

  37. Kate says:

    I loved the post A, and the link off to more discussion of this issue. I’ve been at university all my life – as child of a professor and now as staff member myself. When I first worked as graduate assistant, I consciously wore “grownup” clothes as a way of distancing myself from the little girl some of my colleagues had known for years. Now at another university in another town, I dress up way more than most of my colleagues – but that’s me! I’m lucky I guess, like you, to be in the humanities, where such things don’t seem to matter so much, but I have been called trivial, anti-feminist etc too. the marriage question – I get this all the time – as I wear a wedding ring AND have three children – things are still stacked against women entering the upper echelons of academia . . .

  38. N. says:

    Interesting, on FB a male colleague of mine just posted asking for advice on what to wear for job interviews. He received several, specific and practical recommendations (all from women). FInally, someone (a male) responded:

    ” You’re not interviewing for a model, right? Dress to impress is a misconception b/c caring too much for your looks makes people suspicious, and for an academic position you’ll be vetoed by your peers. ”

    I commented back– and referred them all to this blog post!

  39. [...] now that I’m back, I’m fascinated by the dialogue that started last week just after my departure and I’d like to add my two cents: I too, like [...]

  40. sabrina says:

    I must say, I also enjoy this conversation. How you dress and present yourself means different things in different academic contexts. I work at an urban (read: mostly non-white, working class, first generation) university, and many of fellow professors of color go above and beyond “typical” academic garb: jcrew, brooks brothers, banana republic, tailored suit dresses and jackets, the whole nine yards. My students wear urban causal/hip hop style clothing. I’m still under thirty, look much younger, and wear something more like “girlie nerd” (a somewhat rumpled, coordinated and calculated look), that sets me apart from many of my perfectly coiffed, New York City colleagues. Even older white guys here tend to look classically tweedy.

    As the semester goes on, though, many of us tend towards dressy jeans, more causal tops, and (secondhand) jackets from Urban Outfitters. I wear shorter skirts (3″ above the knee) and older vintage styles. I wear off kilter tunics, leggings and shit-kickers to college wide faculty meetings. I LOVE not having to worry about being “uber-professional” all the time. At the end of the day, my publication record, teaching evals, and service matter most. This reason (plus June, July and August), really make this job far better than our similarly educated (and richer) peers.

  41. HD says:

    Let me chime in here and give a European perspective on the discussion. (so pardon my english, I’m French).
    I’m a political history student, currently writing my thesis and thus in close contact with a lot of academic people..
    Here, we just don’t care about how academics dress… there is no such thing as a dresscode, official or unofficial. There are all kinds of academics: people who don’t care, people who care but still dress ‘with moderation’, real eccentrics (rings, leather, etc…). No one really seems to spend much thughts to it. Which is a good thing I think. In america, there seems to be so much overreaction on unimportant things..
    Here, as long as you’re competent, it’s just fine how you dress…

  42. [...] personalities. As for the wedding ring question…we’ve already put in our two cents when this topic surfaced a while ago, but we would happily reopen this ever present dilemma for [...]

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