And I’m Back

It’s the final push toward the first day of school next Monday here at IPF South. I’m back after a lovely break in Montreal where my youngest sister picked out a wedding dress in 45 minutes and my other sister found our bridesmaid dresses for more than 50% off online. In other words, Best. Wedding. Shopping. EVER. But now back to school is at the front of my mind.
I actually wanted to touch on the Chronicle article A-Dubs linked to yesterday and that’s been making the blogosphere rounds (I second A-Dub’s suggestion that you check out La Historiadora de Moda’s take on it over at Fashionable Academics and the thoughtful responses to her post). It’s enraging for both what it leaves out and the assumptions it’s reliant on. I’m not going to repeat what others have said. However, it’s (and all of your responses) helped put into focus some of the things I’ve been thinking about recently about the beginning of term.
This fall I’m teaching my first graduate seminar. I’m really excited to get a chance to work through my research with graduate students (I’m basically teaching my dissertation to hopefully re-invigorate my labored revisions of the manuscript) and to be thinking through ideas that are important to me (the cosmopolitan novel as political intervention, the aesthetics of politics, etc.) with graduate students. However, I’m also feeling somewhat apprehensive about how to project authority in this new-to-me situation. I was lucky to get a tenure-track job right out of my Ph.D. so I’m not a ton older than an average graduate student. Irritatingly, older faculty often confuse me for a graduate student. I think, enraging as it was, the Chronicle piece reflects a lot of the circulating assumptions about style in (and out of) the academy — perhaps particularly for young-looking female professors.
All of this is my long-winded way of saying that I’m feeling a bit anxious about what to wear on my first day of school so you can anticipate some test outfits in the coming days. The outfit below is one I wore to meet with a graduate student who’s committee I’m on. This is a much more casual outfit than I would wear for the first day of school (I’d probably wear it a few weeks in, though) but it was hot and, frankly, I needed to do laundry and this was what was available.

Top: Old Navy
Cami: Hanes Old Man undershirt
Skirt: Gap
Necklace: The Bay (God, how I miss the Bay and their “It’s always a fire sale” mentality.)


I’d forgotten how much I love this skirt, though, as I’ve had it for years but hadn’t worn it in over a year. One reason I don’t wear it much is that it’s really full and it blows up at even the hint of a breeze. Any tips on how to prevent this?













Shoes: Nine West, courtesy of the Macy’s End of

Season Sale which is better than the Bay
Also, here’s the mini-FR, looking adorbs.

Got any suggestions about what would automatically convey authority in 100+/ 30+ weather? (Ie. there’s no way I’ll be wearing a blazer or anything long-sleeved)

23 thoughts on “And I’m Back

  1. Perhaps I should clarify what I mean by "a prof's professionalism." My meaning there related to how they conduct themselves in the classroom specifically, which is not, in my opinion, directly related to their "street cred in academia," as LHdM puts it. I don't think that clothes reflect one's legitimacy as a thinker in the field, but I do think that the best teachers ARE organized in the classroom, so their dress does influence my first impression of them as instructors. It also occurs to me that this might be rooted in the fact that, since I began as a secondary educator, I have a very different type of training than many PhDs have.This also reminds me, though, that every student is likely to have a different reaction to what you're wearing (and plenty will have no reaction at all), which makes wearing what you feel comfortable and confident in more important than anything else, I think. And don't forget that, since it's a seminar, most of them are there because they're very interested in the topic for which you're the expert. I get completely geeked out to meet the professors who put out course descriptions for classes I cannot wait to take.-Liz

  2. I am no help whatsoever on the teaching thing, but the advice others have offered seems sound.As for the skirt-flippy problem, I have found that a slip helps. Maybe it's just because now there are two things that have to blow up before I'm mortified, or maybe it's static cling between the skirt and slip.

  3. I love your outfit. That skirt, I loves it, loves it!! I have to make a confession. I'm a staff member, I handle graduate admissions for a southern US university's computer science department. When I first started working in the department I was the dept.'s chair's secretary. I was really struggling because there had been no one in my position for five months and my paper and computer files from my predecessors ended in 2005 (some in 2003) (I started Jan. 2007). So every time the chair asked me to get something and I couldn't find it, he'd say, "just look on your computer." It was frustrating among other newbie frustrating things. Anyway, I was whining to a couple of other staff members at lunch. In a break in conversation I turned to a young guy.He had the classic grad school student poor guy look – long scraggly hair, a long scraggly beard, a tank top (too big) and baggy shorts. I said, "So what's your focus? What are you studying?" He laughed and said, "I'm faculty." I thought I would die. Turns out we're the same age, but his outfit and overall "who cares" attitude about his dress made me think he was a really down on his luck grad student! I was so apologetic and felt terrible. But he laughed and said it was cool. He is one of our best teachers. Our students love him because he's so down to earth and not He knows how to keep it casual but still get the learning through. In the last year he's really cleaned up. Cut off the hair (for a wedding) and the beard and got some jeans and a few Hawaiian shirts. He cleans up good. So anyway, consider your youthful appearance to be a blessing. But you can always add some jewelry to punch up your outfits, something that is not Forever 21, but not old lady either.And don't forget, walking tall with a confident air and smile goes a long way. People will see you less as a student, more as a mystery but be drawn to you.Good luck!!

  4. My first year teaching here, Susan Sontag came to campus for a lecture. She was ultimate Sontag–wearing a rather shapeless black sweater and, I think, brown cords. Her hair was still black but had that marvelous streak of white in the front. In short, she looked as if she'd just gotten up from her desk and walked into the lecture hall. As she's sitting up front, waiting to begin, the two elderly lady in front of me said to her friend, "I wonder why female intellectuals always dress so badly? Do they think they have to wear ugly clothes to be taken seriously?"

  5. My first year teaching here, Susan Sontag came to campus for a lecture. She was ultimate Sontag–wearing a rather shapeless black sweater and, I think, brown cords. Her hair was still black but had that marvelous streak of white in the front. In short, she looked as if she'd just gotten up from her desk and walked into the lecture hall. As she's sitting up front, waiting to begin, the two elderly lady in front of me said to her friend, "I wonder why female intellectuals always dress so badly? Do they think they have to wear ugly clothes to be taken seriously?"

  6. Oh my gosh, my friend *Curly and I talk about imposter syndrome all the time! Here's our definition: Imposter syndrome is when you're young and fabulous but shocked that anyone has given you real responsibilities in a work environment. Is this your definition? *Curly – changed name to protect the innocent!

  7. Thanks for the great advice all! I guess what my anxiety boils down to is not so much that they won't take me seriously but whether I feel confident in a space that the good ol' imposter syndrome makes me feel I'm not entirely ready for. And so I'm fixating on what to wear.

  8. I love your outfit. That skirt, I loves it, loves it!! I have to make a confession. I'm a staff member, I handle graduate admissions for a southern US university's computer science department. When I first started working in the department I was the dept.'s chair's secretary. I was really struggling because there had been no one in my position for five months and my paper and computer files from my predecessors ended in 2005 (some in 2003) (I started Jan. 2007). So every time the chair asked me to get something and I couldn't find it, he'd say, "just look on your computer." It was frustrating among other newbie frustrating things. Anyway, I was whining to a couple of other staff members at lunch. In a break in conversation I turned to a young guy.He had the classic grad school student poor guy look – long scraggly hair, a long scraggly beard, a tank top (too big) and baggy shorts. I said, "So what's your focus? What are you studying?" He laughed and said, "I'm faculty." I thought I would die. Turns out we're the same age, but his outfit and overall "who cares" attitude about his dress made me think he was a really down on his luck grad student! I was so apologetic and felt terrible. But he laughed and said it was cool. He is one of our best teachers. Our students love him because he's so down to earth and not He knows how to keep it casual but still get the learning through. In the last year he's really cleaned up. Cut off the hair (for a wedding) and the beard and got some jeans and a few Hawaiian shirts. He cleans up good. So anyway, consider your youthful appearance to be a blessing. But you can always add some jewelry to punch up your outfits, something that is not Forever 21, but not old lady either.And don't forget, walking tall with a confident air and smile goes a long way. People will see you less as a student, more as a mystery but be drawn to you.Good luck!!

  9. Perhaps I should clarify what I mean by "a prof's professionalism." My meaning there related to how they conduct themselves in the classroom specifically, which is not, in my opinion, directly related to their "street cred in academia," as LHdM puts it. I don't think that clothes reflect one's legitimacy as a thinker in the field, but I do think that the best teachers ARE organized in the classroom, so their dress does influence my first impression of them as instructors. It also occurs to me that this might be rooted in the fact that, since I began as a secondary educator, I have a very different type of training than many PhDs have.This also reminds me, though, that every student is likely to have a different reaction to what you're wearing (and plenty will have no reaction at all), which makes wearing what you feel comfortable and confident in more important than anything else, I think. And don't forget that, since it's a seminar, most of them are there because they're very interested in the topic for which you're the expert. I get completely geeked out to meet the professors who put out course descriptions for classes I cannot wait to take.-Liz

  10. You've gotten some great advice. Neutrals with clean lines. Sleeveless is fine so long as it's sleek and not a tee-shirt–for example, a gray cotton knit sleeveless sweater with a tailored pair of charcoal pants or knee-length charcoal skirt and closed-toed shoes would be cool and still look polished enough. Most of your students will have on jeans and tee-shirts, so you don't have to up the ante much to outdress the crowd.

  11. I am no help whatsoever on the teaching thing, but the advice others have offered seems sound.As for the skirt-flippy problem, I have found that a slip helps. Maybe it's just because now there are two things that have to blow up before I'm mortified, or maybe it's static cling between the skirt and slip.

  12. I don't think age and appearance matters in terms of authority for graduate students nearly as much as it does for undergrads. I've had professors who are minimally older than me or older than some of the (grad) students in the classroom and it does not matter–the fact is those professors have established themselves as the authority because they've written and defended a dissertation and are involved in their field professionally. Grad students get that.I'm going to be picking up this issue of authority as it seems mind boggling to me. I think for most scholars authority comes down to scholarship whereas for my undergraduate students it seems to be about looking like someone who produces scholarship–and image of authority clashes with my own (a younger woman whose height makes her appear younger).

  13. OK, that was totally the best wedding shopping trip ever. Also, I'm afraid to ask, but I'll do it anyway: are the bridesmaid dresses strapless?For the teaching stuff, I won't repeat everyone else's comments. But I will say that you are awesome, and that you wrote a whole dissertation on the topic you're teaching, so you will be the awesome expert in the room. Fashion-in-teaching-wise, I've recently been reminded via a couple of meetings that when one sits at a table, bracelets and longer necklaces can clank against the table top and distract people, especially if you're a fidgety-hand-talker like me.As a fellow blowy skirt wearer, I've found no real solutions to the blow-ups. I have a pretend solution though, and it involves carrying a messenger bag across my body, lengthening the strap so that the bag hangs just at or below hip height, and pushing the bag part back by my bum. But that only solves the back blow-up. And you have to find the sweet spot so that the bag holds your skirt down instead of rucking it up a little more with every step. I've got nothing for the front. Finally, the Mini-FR is so adorably mini. Did he like summer camp?

  14. It has been a while since I have been in a classroom, but I would dress neatly and a little conservatively. Be more formal than the students tend to be. I think demeanor and comfort will do more to gain credability than dress.I link the green and pink together in your outfit.

  15. Want to convey authority and not look like a student? Wear black. Go minimalist at first. Clean lines, maybe one big, bold accessory. If you don't want to do a jacket, try a 3/4-sleeve cotton cardigan in a neutral like grey. Introduce the color and elements like ruffles later, after you've made your first impression. And of course, I don't know if you're so inclined, but the best way to distinguish yourself from students is to wear a heel. Even if you wear the flats around campus, then change just before class.♥ Vhttp://www.gritandglamour.com

  16. Just dress neatly and in something that you feel comfortable in, and all will be well. Clothes that fit and are tucked and accessorized are going to be enough to set you apart from most students. Go up a couple of style notches from what the grad students normally wear but don't overshoot too far, and aim for smooth rather than cute/quirky at least at first. Graduate students are going to be much more inclined to respect you than undergrads would, and also they'll be excited to work with you because you bring fresh blood and fresh ideas to a department that, who knows, they may have gotten bored with.Earning respect has almost nothing to do with what you wear in the long haul, and everything to do with being able to project authority and also to use that authority in a way that fits the situation. I would say that with my first two graduate students that got PhDs under my supervision (who were very close to my age when they started and even had more experience than me with some techniques) I actually used my relative inexperience to help "bond" the team. They knew that the work they did for me was at a "make or break" stage in my career, and they had empathy for what I was going through. And then when we got funding for their project, they got rewarded with better stipends and more resources, so they felt it was a team success. So projecting authority doesn't even have to be all about maintaining too much distance, or trying to act older or anything. You can be first among near-equals and share your experience in a way that an older prof can't, and you'll be who the students model themselves on when they have to make the same transition.

  17. Unlike Liz, I don't really associate someone's street cred in academia with their appearance. The range for dress is very high and the rewards for investing greatly in one's appearance as an academic are too low for me to expect most other academics to care much about what they are wearing or whether or not their shirts are tucked in. It is my honest belief that spectacles convey academic authority more than any other material item — except for maybe jackets with elbow-patches.

  18. I think in any field it's tough to be a younger female and appear that you have any sort of authority. I was in a similar position at my job – I was 24, had been with my company for a year and was a supervisor to people who were either older than me and/or had more seniority on the job than I did. It was admittedly pretty hard at first, but my manager at the time advised me to set the tone up front that I'm in charge and I know what I'm doing (there was a reason I was promoted, after all) and it did help me garner some respect.My suggestion would be to wear neutrals, like black, gray and navy, or muted colors at first. Black, at least in business, usually comes off as professional and it's less distracting than bright, bubbly colors. I think Rad (and possibly other bloggers – I can't remember) have mentioned that they dress more conservatively at the beginning of the term just to establish some authority and be taken more seriously.I have the same problem with some of my skirts too, and I have no idea how to prevent it! I'm interested to see if anyone has any tips 🙂

  19. OOh, politics of aesthetics?! I hope you'll work some of your own research into your posts in the coming months. I'm grappling with this intersection in my own research project so I am definitely intrigued.As a grad student, I would say that I like it best when my professors wear ensembles that project their personalities. I think most of my classmates pretty automatically respect professors as authorities; you might not be that much older, but you've already accomplished that which many (most?) of us are trying to achieve. The only time I have trouble respecting a prof's professionalism is when they show up looking what I would consider "disheveled." I'm very type A, so it makes me worry about how unorganized the class might end up being. As such, I wouldn't be put off by bare arms at all, but if a shirt was half untucked, I'd give it a sideways glance.-Liz

  20. The eagle-eyed will note that the mini-FR did make it into the outfit picture. Barely. Also, I need to get a tripod: I've yet to manage a reasonable photo of the outfit that includes the shoes.

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