Hi there. As noted above, I teach in Women’s and Gender Studies in a program that is (currently) largely undergraduate. I’ve been teaching now for 3 years, one year in English and Cultural Studies, and the last 2 years in Women’s and Gender Studies. I’m comfortably into my thirties, but still get mistaken for a student on the rare days I wear jeans to campus (which I do only between terms, and mostly when I’m not meeting with students).
When I was a Teaching Assistant, I worked for a number of professors who dressed very casually for lecture. In the past, I’ve lectured in jeans, a shell, and a jacket of some kind, but have found that if I dress even this casually, students forget the power imbalance implicit in our classroom relationship and address me as though we are friends. I know that some instructors encourage such relationships with students, but I am not one of them. Given that I evaluate students’ work and assign grades to it, I don’t see how we can or should be friends for the duration of the course. The personal nature of a friendship does not fit the academic framework of the classroom,
So, I’m trying to build a professional wardrobe, even as my disastrously low salary keeps me from jetting to Montreal and buying out the shops. I don’t want to be stodgy, or get stuck in a fashion rut. I don’t want to be one of those aging academics who, 10 years from now, is recognizable as an academic even outside of campus by virtue of my 10-year-old suit, ugly-yet-sensible shoes, and fuzzy hair.
I don’t want to be a hypocrite in the feminist context/s of the Women’s and Gender Studies classroom, so I’m trying to source clothing and accessories made from sustainably-manufactured products and produced by persons paid a living wage. Ha! Jewellery is relatively easy to find, but everything else is much more of a challenge to uncover!
In addition, as someone who spent my twenties travelling, and then in grad school, I’m only now working through what exactly a “professional” wardrobe is. In Style magazine insists that a pencil skirt is a staple; but my current version of this skirt style feels way too sexy to be professional. Are students really going to engage with the lecture material if I deliver it in a curve-hugging skirt and the heels with which such an item begs to be worn?
Vogue tells me that a basic suit with two or three pieces that I mix and match is a good place to start. So I bought a black mexx suit with a close-fitting jacket and tailored flat-front pants. But I despise the suit on its own (it makes me want to take a giant nap), and find any of the mix-and-match outfits involving the suit pieces too conservative/boring (again, naptime).
Thus, I’ve begun collecting sweaters – cardi’s, crew necks, boat necks, t-necks – mostly in wool, silk, or cashmere blends, since cotton fades too quickly and I favour black. I’ve also begun collecting a-line skirts, and some basic flat-front trousers. I’ve discovered that silk blouses travel well – for interviews, conferences, and the like – but that I require blouses in dark colours as there’s some over-the-top sweating that happens in lectures, particularly those delivered to classes of 50 to 250 students.
I feel I’m on the right track here. But I still have too many of those days. You know, the days where you catch your reflection in a window while rushing into or out of a classroom and think, “Oh crap! This is all wrong.”
And so, I begin. I’m working up the courage to post pictures of work outfits here, especially as those are my favourite elements of blogs like Academichic, Fitforafemme, and Fashionable Academics. But I’m not there yet. I’ll keep following others, however, and try to make myself admit that a fashion-based blog is ridiculous without pictures. In the mean time, if anyone’s out there: I welcome any and all advice for dressing in professorial fashion.