Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Eccentricity is not a bad thing

At Inside Higher Ed, Erik M. Jensen has an amusing piece called "A Call for Professional Attire." It's a mildly humorous and mildly serious plea for college professors to dress more formally.

I'll go ahead and bypass the "I'll dress better when you pay me better" response (quite frankly, I'm not sure I can afford to dress the way Jensen would want me to--are adjuncts perhaps exempt from his standards?). I'll even bypass the socio-economic class considerations (why, exactly, do I not even know what a crease in pants means, why don't I know whether it's a good or a bad thing, and why would I not be able to identify a crease or lack of crease anyway?).

If I wanted to dress like a businessman, I could have become a businessman. I would have to cut my hair, shave my beard, and wear a suit and tie to work every day. But I didn't become a businessman. I thought freedom of attire and appearance to be one of the perks of teaching in college; I'm allowed to look a bit eccentric.

Now, I generally wear khakis or corduroys (very rarely jeans), and either a sweater or a sports coat of some sort (over a button up shirt or polo shirt, which is not always or even usually tucked in). I'm always hunting for cheap clearance suit coats, mostly corduroy but not always. In general, I've taken some concern to look relatively professional, even if it is often casual. As my sister and mother would attest, I don't precisely have the keenest fashion sense anyway, so I guess you could say I'm doing my best.

But I also understand the desire to look professional, and I do know that dressing professional can make one feel professional. That's why I've bypassed the desire to go the full hippie prof route by wearing a peace sign t-shirt shirt under my corduroy jacket. So perhaps I'll take up Jensen's advice: tomorrow, in my fourth year teaching, I will wear a tie to work for the first time.

I'm a bit concerned it will look like I'm playing grown-up.


  1. How did it go? My favorite professor wore his corduroy jacket today in hopes to feel more "professorial." He claims that if someone is wearing corduroy he is more likely to be trusted on academic matters.

  2. My feeling is a suit and tie covers up deficiencies but doesn't likely add anything. I have unkempt hair and beard--if I dress casual, I'm "slovenly," "sloppy," or "lazy." If I have a tie, it's more like a style choice. And if during lecture, I ramble into off-topic tangents? I might otherwise be described as unprofessional or ill-prepared, instead I'm at worst absent-minded.

    So there's my aphorism: wearing a tie can distract people from how incompetent you really are.

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  4. Concerning professional attire: I was once examined by a Vermont doctor who sported a shaggy beard and wore faded khakis with lots of cargo pockets, a flannel shirt topped with a fishing vest (I think that's what it was) and hiking boots. Although his attire was unconventional, it soon became obvious that his bedside manner, so to speak, was actually that of the typical modern doctor: aloof and unempathetic. What does that say about attire?