This piece, from the Chronicle of Higher Education, discusses the pitfalls of being seen as too attractive, by students and colleagues. But I was most interested by the first comment underneath. In response to the suggestion that professors should wear a suit and heels, the commenter says they are "there to teach", not to "look hot", and that the suggestion is "just offensive to anybody who takes the life of the mind seriously". While I agree that professors' main aim should not be to serve as a decorative object in the classroom, I don't see why wearing a suit should be a problem. Indeed, this earlier article shows how one professor found benefits to wearing a suit daily. I'm very curious where this idea that dressing smartly is incompatible with "a life of the mind" has come from - as I mentioned in my post a few days ago. It's evidently a relatively recent step: photos of professors from the first half of the twentieth century show them dressed much as bankers or lawyers of the same period (possibly with more tweed in evidence!). Does anyone seriously think Wittgenstein wasn't leading a life of the mind because he was wearing a three-piece suit?
As well as student perceptions, the impression given to the public at large is something of which some academics seem to be oblivious. We roll our eyes at the "clueless" who think we only work 6 hours a week and have summers off, but if you're going to work in an outfit most professionals would wear on their days off, you might be contributing to the problem. I never cease to be amazed at academics' willingness to undermine themselves (and academe in general) by playing into public stereotypes of professors as layabouts who don't really earn their (in the public imagination) overinflated salaries. I appreciate that avoiding a corporate lifestyle is something that drew many of us into academia, but if you're complaining about university education being undervalued, then being seen to be in your office during business hours wearing something close to professional attire might not be such a bad place to start.