Every human environment has its own dress code, complete with significance and consequences. Career environments are particularly fraught, largely because how we carry ourselves there affects our prestige and our finances. Here at Privilege, we’ve discussed corporate career wear often, and will continue to do so.
However, what if you’re beginning, or in the midst of, a career in academia? What then?
Not wanting to speak in ignorance, I summoned the Privilege Academic Counsel and requested expert advice. Let us deconstruct their response. As academics, they give us first their assumptions.
As one would expect, dress code will differ between and across universities. The Privilege Academic Counsel is heavily weighted towards the West Coast, and towards the social sciences. So remember,
- Big, state, private, liberal arts may have different cultures
- Pay attention to regional variances
- Departments and disciplines have specialized codes. Physics is not Social Welfare is not French is not the Graduate School of Business.
- Please adapt this information with your customary intelligence
How To Build Your Wardrobe For A Career In Academia
If you ask yourself, in academia, “Who do I want to be?” the answer should come back, “A serious intellectual.” One might think that serious would require non-froofy clothes, and intellect would search out clothing high in quality of both construction and design.
In reality, on college and university campuses across the nation, academic freedom trumps style left and right. One can focus wholly on one’s work, throw on odd garments, and trade heavily in the Genius Doesn’t Care model. With sufficient genius, much is forgiven.
But, if you don’t want to leave all style behind, if you want to maintain your authority and still enjoy clothes, here are guidelines to follow and missteps to avoid.
We will use Use Cases to explicate.
Use Case #1: Working In Your Office On Campus
You’re in your office, no meetings on the calendar, just working on your own stuff. The chance of contact, with colleagues, administration, or students, persists.
Use Case #2: Outreach To Community Partners, Or, Teaching A Class
Here we see wool blend trousers in a suiting material, but no jacket. Essentially, one wears pants for the men, tops for the women. If your community partners are government offices, tailored cardigans work well. Non-profits can stand more color, because the women who run them are further over on the self-expression spectrum. The men tend to wear sports coats. Wear a shoe with character, instead of smooth corporate pumps. Above, a two-tone Mary Jane.
Use Case #3: Presentation at a National Academic Conference
Wear a jacket to present, along with coordinated trousers. Suits with matching jackets and trousers are very rare. Doctoral students occasionally come to conferences in suits and are identifiable as a result. Underneath, a silk jersey tee in solid colors, a blouse if you’re a blouse person, or a coordinating sweater if your conference happens to be held somewhere in the Frozen Tundra.
Guidelines To Remember
- Earth tones and other “off tones” prevail. Not purple but aubergine. Not yellow but goldenrod. Less red more crimson.
- Major pieces should be on the masculine side. Make judicious use of feminine details.
- A cashmere ruffle on your charcoal gray sweater
- An Akris jacket, sporting a peplum. Smythe makes similar jackets in the <$600 range. Again, if you can find the quality and the design at a lower price point, it’s not the brand names that we’re after.
- A tailored blouse in a bright color
- Do not look for recognizable brands per se, but do not settle for visibly cheap goods
- Dresses are seen occasionally in the summer but senior faculty wear them with a jacket
- Dresses are not the center of your faculty wardrobe
- Shoes and jewelry are the best places to show more idiosyncrasy
- Spend on your jackets and shoes. Mix and match the rest up and down.
- Bad jackets make you look sad and unprofessional
Pitfalls To Avoid
- Starting from ideas rather than an aesthetic. In other words, no matter the theoretical construct behind your outfit, if it looks bad, it looks bad.
- Too many patterns, especially leopard
- Too much lace, puffed sleeves
- Too shiny a facade, status logos. You want hints, however slight, of I Made It Myself
- Too much show of flesh takes you into frivolous and non-intellectual territory. Except in gender studies, where by overtly breaking those taboos you are in fact pursuing your work. Otherwise don’t let too much skin get get in the way.
And, in closing, if you want only to avoid ignominy,
- Eileen Fisher is a safe bet. You will not be alone.
- Jigsaw is the source of choice for Northern California academics. Especially those who work for large, hallowed, state institutions.
Thank you class. We will address your questions in preceptorial sections. There is, in fact, no homework.