Unless you’re a politician, suits have been kind of out for women for quite a while now (pants suits, skirt suits, wev.) I wore them a lot in the late 1990s when I started my career–they were more in fashion then, and I hoped they would enhance my authority in the classroom. But, I think it’s time to revisit the rules of academic fashion. (Or rather, to discern if there are any, whatsoever.)
I was on sabbatical last year, and so spent at least the first half of each day in my pajamas most days. I’m back in the classroom and in meetings again, and I’m wearing mostly dresses now, or skinny jeans with boots. It’s what I want to wear, but I wonder sometimes if my students don’t know who’s showing up to teach the class: Donna Reed or Patty Smith? But to tell you the truth, I don’t really care what they think. I’m confident that my students think that I’m older than dirt and dress worse than their grandmothers, so I’m beyond all that.
Do you wear jeans to work? It’s a relatively new experiment for me, and I tend to dress them up with blouses or sweaters, jewelry, and the shoes or boots. One of the first times I wore jeans to work a few years back, one of the adjunct faculty (someone older than me) said, somewhat sarcastically, “you’re looking pretty comfortable today, Historiann.” That kind of piqued me. I said, “Well, ever since I was tenured a few years ago, I figure I can wear whatever I like.” It seemed inapprorpriate for hir to comment on my clothing–I would never dream of saying anything to anyone about hir clothes, unless I was paying a compliment. I also seriously doubt that any of my tenured male colleagues have ever been addressed that way–and here in Colorado, many of them (and some of my tenured female colleagues) wear jeans. (The jeans/cargo shirt/fleece or canvas vest look is fairly standard for male faculty, and many women faculty too at Baa Ram U., but there are a lot of people here who teach at the Vet school, or in Animal Science, or work in the biohazard labs, so that uniform may be only practical.)
What’s your line of professional/unprofessional? What would a colleague have to wear (or, rather, not be wearing, as may be the case) for you to volunteer your displeasure at hir costume? Pasties? A leisure suit? A bare midriff? A “wife beater” t-shirt? Real life stories of uncollegial rudeness and/or scandalously inappropriate clothing will be most welcome in the comments below!
UPDATED 9/9/08, EVENING: New Kid on the Hallway has come though with the link I wanted, which was a discussion of gender and dressing for the classroom. She wrote,
Because [women faculty] HAD to figure it out – because students respond very differently to men and women teachers. I’ve certainly known students to mock male professors’ clothing (usually when such clothing consists entirely of jackets produced in the 70s, or rotation between the same three outfits). But it’s different from when they mock women professors’ clothing. Bad dressing doesn’t seem to undermine male professors’ authority – in fact, it might enhance it: oh, look, they’re so smart they don’t care about clothes. If you’re a woman, however, and you don’t care about clothes, you’re just a mess, a slob, and unworthy of respect. And if you do care about clothes, then you’re frivolous and not serious about your work, and unworthy of respect. Or, god forbid, you’re a slut, and obviously unworthy of respect.