If love is a red dress...

Academic dress - or rather, the Bermuda triangle of style that is most faculty lounges. The other day I was speaking to Fellow Female Academic, and she told me that when she started out, she was trying NOT to look stylish, from the idea that she could come across as too frivolous, that she should be leading a serious, ascetic, life of the mind (this is not a view that FFA still holds, mind, and she is very elegant). But it intrigued me, as I had never thought that way myself - nor for a moment considered that the shabby folks I saw were consciously operating under such a belief.

From when I started my Masters (indeed, the latter stages of my undergrad) I tended to wear jackets and skirts to class, rather than jeans and t-shirts. During my PhD, when I had no classes to attend, I'll admit I didn't make too much of an effort to look fashion-forward just to get to the library. But I dressed for conferences. Once I landed a full-time job, I started wearing make-up daily. I would never teach a class, or present a conference paper, in jeans. I had always operated from the view that attitudes are very gendered, and as a young woman there is a greater risk of undermining oneself by appearing too casual (or indeed too young, dressing like a kid in ponytail, jeans and sneakers). As far as I am aware, I have never been judged frivolous for wearing lipstick or high heels to academic events (but I can't know for sure).

The people who get away with being the worst dressed are generally both senior and male (although there are a few women who yield to nobody in their sloppy personal appearance). I'm not talking "somewhat dowdy", but the extreme of poor dressing that is achieved only by academics and the homeless. When I see someone show up at a seminar in torn clothing (!), dirty tracksuit pants, a nylon fleece...I do judge them, I admit it. I don't admire their disregard for material matters, but rather think they are pretty disrespectful to their colleagues to not dress a little better than they would to shamble down the road to Blockbuster (something tells me these people don't have much of a social life, either). FFA said that she changed her view based on the logic that you wouldn't trust a lawyer or a doctor who couldn't dress themselves, and academics should be no different. Looking shabby is not some badge of honour, it's a sign of laziness and incompetence.