I read this article in Inside Higher Ed that made me feel very proud of my colleagues in academia and then instantly very ashamed of them. The article’s title is “Why I (Usually) Wear a Tie“. This is what Nate Kreuter has to say about the way he dresses for work:
For me, wearing a pressed shirt, sport coat, and tie is a way of projecting respect for my job, and respect for my students. It’s a way of saying to my students and to my colleagues, “I take you seriously, I take my work seriously, and I don’t take either for granted.” . . . In my own field of rhetoric, it’s widely understood that the images we project through our writing, speech, mannerisms, and dress play a critical role in how we and our ideas are received by the people that we work with, the students that we teach, and the community members with whom we interact. I think that junior faculty especially, but all faculty, need to ask themselves, as shallow as it may sometimes seem, “What image am I projecting?”
I strongly believe that, for educators our personality is one of the most important means of production we possess. I educate students not only with the knowledge I have but with everything I am, everything I say, do, wear, etc. I couldn’t agree more with Nate Kreuter’s belief that the image one projects as a college professor is very important.
However, when I finished reading this inspiring article, I scrolled down and read the comments. I’ll save you the trouble of having to leaf through them. here are some of the most egregious responses for your perusal:
Professors “on the soft side” of the house (social sciences and humanities) need to dress up to project an image that they’re in charge. Professors “on the hard side” of the house (sciences and mathematics) don’t have to worry about how they work — they get respect because they clearly KNOW more than their students.
I sincerely hope this is some kind of a clumsy joke. Especially the weird “hard vs soft” part of it.
Ties constrict blood flow to the brain. Someone in an intellectual profession should appreciate the disadvantages of doing that. They are also penis-symbols. Someone in an intellectual profession should appreciate the ludicrousness of wearing such a symbol to impress students and the difficulties it raises in terms of “professionalism”. Further, women don’t wear ties and cannot seem truly professional lacking one. Is that the message you want to communicate? Don’t you find that a tad problematic? Yes, conformity feels good. Shouldn’t an academic be questioning what it means to conform to an anachronistic custom, not embracing it?
First of all, women can wear ties. I have one and I love it. I don’t wear it as often as I’d like to because tying it is an adventure and I keep untying it in a fit of forgetfulness. Besides, the entire screech about conformity is beyond superficial. If anybody feels they are being non-conformist by wearing short shorts to class, they are fools. I thought people get over this teenage rebellion phase by the age they get a job in academia, but apparently it isn’t always the case.
And what’s with these sad attempts at humor?
According to this article the 99% would be a lot better off if the geniuses on Wall Street wore t-shirts and flip flops to work, so that they’d get the disrespect they most surely deserve. Part of that hornswoggling magic is the three thousand dollar suit, right? Surely somebody who looks that good must be a hard working and honest professional, yes?
Here is an example of how any conversation can be derailed completely by bringing in totally unrelated issues. I know that Wall Street is to blame for absolutely everything nowadays, including the weather. But it would be nice to be able to discuss an issue without somebody starting to yell “You, the horrible one-percenter!” to shut down all disagreement.
27 thoughts on “The Ideology of Clothes in Academia”
//it’s widely understood that the images we project through our writing, speech, mannerisms, and dress play a critical role in how we and our ideas are received by the people //
Agree 100%! But, if so, why don’t you agree that the images OWS protesters project are important too in a similar way? Meaning that just as you won’t come to your job with pink hair and “trendy” clothes, they too should dress to project the image of serious people, similar to how Penguin described it?
Years ago on the alt.cannabis usenet group there was an activist who preached exactly that. He always wore a suit on his trips to Washington to lobby for legalisation.
The message of the activists is that they are very poor and in debt. I think a business suit would kind of undermine that message. 🙂
People who need to appear to be high status wear expensive suits and typically ties. People who are comfortable in who they are and do not need to play status games often do not. Some academics wear ties and jackets for reasons of contempt for students. I have had colleagues tell me that they wore suits and ties to teach in for purposes of crowd control: Students were quieter and more respectful. If one needs an artificial symbol of status to elicit respect, he or she most emphatically does not deserve respect.
I do often wear a tie if I am going to the theatre or opera, only because it is fun to play dress-up from time to time.
There is indeed scientific evidence that ties constrict blood flow to the brain and result in slightly reduced mental capabilities. There was an article to this effect around twenty years ago in Science News. I do not care enough about the fact to look it up and get a reference just now.
The fact that people wear certain clothing to look serious is precisely why I distrust anyone in a suit and tie. Such a person is probably trying to intimidate me for the purpose of selling me something I don’t need or want, for more than it is worth. (Parse this as ‘con artist’ to be precise.)
There’s a typo in the sentence: “I educate students no only with the knowledge…”
Did you mean “not?”
Yep! Thank you for catching it.
I had a professor of Latin who used to come to class in short shorts and with a huge gaping hole in his unclean shirt. He’d place one of his legs in his lap, and we’d see parts of hid body we never needed to.
I also had another professor of Latin who’d come to class in a dress that was very loose on top and no bra. When she’d bend over the desk, we’d also see parts of her body we never needed to.
I had yet another professor (not of Latin, thank God) who was in her sixties and would come to class in mini-skirts with a slit on the side. Before class, students would make bets on what color her underwear would be on each day.
Honestly, I felt very disrespected by this and would have preferred a business suit any time.
I feel that there is a lot more contempt for me as a student in a professor who wears short shorts to class or makes her red panties visible to everybody.
But… but… the red panties professor is your role model if I am not mistaken. Anyways, I felt contempt for me as a student every time I saw your academic role model’s ridiculous accoutrements:)
Two weeks ago we had a general faculty meeting where we discussed the possibility of adding a new language requirement to our university curriculum. Some colleagues were against ‘imposing’ a language requirement to our students. Anyways, I said to some of my colleagues (and friends) after the meeting that colleagues who were against learning a foreign language should take a mandatory fashion course before teaching. A sweetshirt with a unicorn on it? White t-shirts? Flip flops? Seriously? My eyes bleed when I see men wearing khaki pants so can you imagine what these fashion faux-pas do to my aesthetic sensibility?
I am the fashion police on my campus.
I also had a Latin instructor who taught in hxx yoga suit, leaving little to the imagination. What is wrong with Latin instructors?
“But… but… the red panties professor is your role model if I am not mistaken.”
-Yes, I adore her, but those skirts. . . oy.
“My eyes bleed when I see men wearing khaki pants so can you imagine what these fashion faux-pas do to my aesthetic sensibility?”
-You, of course, know how to dress beautifully for the obvious reasons. 🙂
“I also had a Latin instructor who taught in hxx yoga suit, leaving little to the imagination. What is wrong with Latin instructors?”
-I know, this is some sort of a strange mystery.
Let me state the obvious: fortunately, there is a very wide variety of clothing choices in which a person can look well put together and projecting a sense of personal style, without flashing students with too much skin or looking like an advertising executive.
The “soft” side of things….the “ladies'” side of things…. Western metaphysics.
Huh. I took the hard/soft part very differently. 🙂
Probably that’s because the word “soft” is the last word anybody would use to describe women in my culture.
Yeah, I didn’t even realize the presence of Western metaphysics until just a few years ago. Using its lens, a lot of interactions I’ve had that wouldn’t otherwise make any sense at all make some sense.
I will appear before my class as Pharaoh in all Her radiance.
Clarissa and others, have you ever received student evaluations commenting on your hotness or lack thereof? I have to say that I resent such comments, and comments on my clothing as well.
I got a comment a while ago that I should wear clothes that are of less bright colors. 🙂 That was one brave student who wrote that because usually I’m too intimidating for students to notice such things. 🙂
At Apple Computer they encourage employees to look individualistic, weird, etc. That is because most people do not see these employees except as disembodied persons. So they can hire talented people who don’t look “right” for less money. Just one more capitalist plot, I say.
All Apple retail store employees wear identical Apple logo T-shirts. How individualistic is that? The uniform makes sense, too, since the stores are often packed and it can be hard to find the employees in the crowd.
Hard subjects are those wherein there are generally verifiably correct answers and verifiably false answers. The soft subjects lack this. This means that the hard subjects are easier, in some sense, since one need not deal with the terror of irresolvable ambiguity.
‘Hard’ and ‘soft’ in this context are just adjectival metaphors, of course, and should not be taken literally. The image they evoke for me is that I would prefer to stand on something hard, such as wood or concrete, rather than something soft, like quicksand or jello.
The price of certainty, to be sure, is great. I often tell students that in mathematics, you know what you say or write is correct. What you do not know is whather it is of any importance or relevance. In the humanities and history, you know what you say matters, but not whether it is correct in an absolute sense.
Yesterday in class, we learned that the Mexican Revolution started in 1910 as an uprising against the decades of the porfiriato. All of this is highly verifiable and not really open to discussion.
‘‘Hard’ and ‘soft’ in this context are just adjectival metaphors, of course, and should not be taken literally. ”
-Maybe the person who made the comment and who despises the Humanities so much should keep to their own field, forget about the metaphors, and just use figures and numbers to prove their point.
Just to be a pain in the ass – the date of an event is a Hard fact. The causes are soft, thus subject to interpretation. For instance, we know for a fact OWS started Sept 17th. Yet, even in the midst of a current event, we can’t really define what it’s about. Assuming we know with certainty why a complex human event occurred 100 yrs ago is arrogant self promotion.
I think this comic is kind of relevant to this: http://www.slowpokecomics.com/strips/unsuitwallstreet.html
haha Tim that is hilarious! 🙂
I’m in two minds about this one. For one thing, I detest ties, and haven’t word one for years. And in my vocabulary, “suits” is a term of opprobrium.
Also, I’m quite concerned with a society that values image over substance, and people who are more concerned about the image that they (or their company, church, club, country or other organisation) project than about the substance and what they are doing.
On the other hand, if a lecturer came to the lecture room or someone came to church in a swimming cozzie, no, I wouldn’t think they were serious about what they were doing, and I wouldn’t be inclined to take them seriously.
“Also, I’m quite concerned with a society that values image over substance, and people who are more concerned about the image that they (or their company, church, club, country or other organisation) project than about the substance and what they are doing.”
-I don’t know how this transformed into valuing image more than substance, to be honest. I take a great care in how I dress. I try to look formal, fashionable, and put together. But obviously this takes a lot less time and effort than preparing classes and doing the actual professional stuff. This is not an either-or proposition.
People seem to believe that paying attention to one’s appearance somehow detracts from one’s professional and intellectual qualities. That surprises me because these things are in no way mutually exclusive.