In my dream world — the one where there are lots of academic jobs and a position at your ideal institution opens up right as you’re finishing your degree — I can imagine myself applying to at least two different kinds of college teaching jobs. I would be interested in teaching art history at an art school, and I would be interested in teaching at a small (likely faith-based) liberal arts college. Were I to land on-campus interviews in either of these scenarios, the type of school itself would certainly play a role in what I might choose to wear, with definite adjustments for the season, the geographic location, the “feel” of the school, etc.
As always, the usual caveats apply. This is meant to generate ideas, not offer didactic advice. Bodies are not neutral, so how your body is perceived socially will certainly impact how the clothes you put on them are received. And confidence is the best accessory, so if wearing a really sharp, tailored suit is what makes you feel polished and accomplished…then I say go for it. As I’ve already mentioned, I will most likely go suit shopping — at the very least for great, professional separates — if and when I go on the traditional job market.
But let’s indulge in a little make-believe and pretend that a) my dissertation has magically written itself; b) I suddenly have two interviews and I want to wear something besides the traditional pants suit; and 3) the hiring cycle fits with out current season. Let’s say that School #1 is an art school in the Midwest and School #2 is an evangelical liberal arts school on the East Coast.
For School #1 I might wear something like this:
This is not a suit. It is, however, a professional-looking ensemble that is also eminently movable. While trapeze jackets might not be on-trend right now, I think they have a classic quality about them that plays nicely against the more structured trousers and fine gauge sweater. And, importantly, because it’s a ponte knit, it passes the arm swing test with flying colors. I imagine that this could be important since I definitely lecture with wild gesticulations. I like that this has some of the components of a pants suit, but there’s a little twist on proportions, shapes, and color that personalizes the outfit without being distracting.
Speaking of colors, I love that the eggplant jacket and amber necklace warm up the otherwise harsh black. I kind of feel like a Rothko painting, and that seems appropriate for an art school setting without being (I hope) cliche. (On a more practical note, currently these pants are hemmed for sizable heels, but for a real on-campus interview, I would wear pants hemmed to wear with a lower black heel or wedge.)
For School #2 I might wear something like this:
Honestly, I would prefer to wear a skirt suit to an institution like this one, but a similar feeling can be created by wearing a blazer over a sheath dress. A benefit to this is that there are less pieces to mess with and no tucking issues to fret over. Despite my previously articulated misgivings about this blazer, I think it works out okay in this iteration since I’m visually raising my waist anyway with the dress. It’s a relatively classic — rather than trendy — cut, and it also adds some textural interest to the outfit overall. I kept my jewelry simpler: diamond studs and a jade ring worn as a pendant for a teeny little pop of color that is more in tune with my aesthetic than the brooches or scarves many advice columns suggest. And yes, I did roll up my sleeves. I think some of you will tell me this is a no-no, but I feel so much more like me and so much less liable to fidget. Hey, I know my weaknesses. (These shoes are not one of them. I’ve walked a mile straight in them without issue.) Overall, I feel really powerful in a great fitting dress and jacket, and a bold shoe only cements that confidence.
Neither of these outfits are going to go down in the annals of Academichic as E.’s Best Look EVER. They aren’t fashion Statements with a capital S. But an interview outfit should make me the star, not my clothes, and I think that both of these remain true to my personal style while also being appropriate for their respective scenarios. After all, no one’s going to hire my closet.