The Clothes Make the Woman

A confession…I love blazers. I mean really love them; like I have about 7 of them love them.  The reason why I love blazers has a lot to do with the idea of “feeling.”  I have previously blogged about the academic “feel” of post-secondary environments (here). That post is my second most viewed post on my blog, and that is probably not a coincidence. 

Those of us who work in higher education, who consider ourselves, academics, professors, instructors, administrators or any other permutation of these titles understand on some level what I speak of when I say that our work environments have a certain “feel” to them.  The feel usually echoes the kind of academic persona the post-secondary institution you work at attempts to maintain. Enter the many adjectives:  distinguished, historical, stuffy, laid-back, casual, down-to-earth, real, prestigious, etc.  You get the idea.  In return the people who work or inhabit these environments are expected to also embody these adjectives. That, readers, is called a stereotype.   

Back to my blazers.  I usually wear my blazers on teaching days.  Ooh, you gasp, you are a stereotype. Wait before you run screaming pot kettle black, hear me out.  Blazers definitely scream academe but the reason they do is because they have been reinforced as such in popular culture. And yes I will admit my style is taken from this. It isn’t about “fitting the part” so much as the “feel” it gives me. Academe feels good and comfortable like a blazer. But there is another reason I wear blazers. As a female who happens to be graced with my mother’s amazing Italian genetics, I have often been told that I do not look as old as I really am. Sometimes this is a problem. It is a problem for all the reasons that it shouldn’t be a problem; students who think you are close to them in age sadly do not give you the same respect as they would an older instructor, or a male instructor.  Notice I did not use the word “authority” for I do not want to be the authority or the law in my class, but I do expect a certain level of respect from my students just as I give them all respect.  In an ethical collaborative classroom we should all be learning from each other and ultimately respecting each other for our experiences and knowledge.  Therefore, the blazers sadly become the marker if you will, that I am not enrolled as a student, that I am the instructor assigned to this subject.

But I love my blazers. I do not wear them begrudgingly like some hair shirt.  I love the way they feel.  And the reason they feel the way that they do is exactly because of why I wear them.  This lovely circular logic works for me.  Blazers feel like what I love, academe and teaching, because I wear them when I am “doing” academe and teaching.

The reason I take offense to articles that speak to clothing choices in academe is twofold. One, I am instructor who is also a lower level administrator. I wear both hats - I wear all the blazers.  Being mistaken as an administrator isn’t an insult; to me it is all about pedagogy and that is all that matters.  Two, these articles fail to draw out the overt gender and departmental divisions of sartorial choices. As someone who has a degree in physical inorganic chemistry (and worked in a geochemical laboratory for 7 years) as well as a PhD in English, I can tell you that clothing choices are definitely (and dare I say obviously) task related. When I worked in a lab, when I was a chemistry student, I didn’t wear blazers. I wore old jeans and a t-shirt. Why? Because I didn’t want to get hydrochloric acid on my dress pants that’s why.  

These articles often also suggests that if women pay attention to their attire they will be taken less seriously than if they don’t.  Again I really think what is lacking (besides substance) in this argument is the overt classicism and gendered stereotypes attached to certain sartorial choices.  For example, is a chemistry professor in a suit (regardless of gender) seen as not working as hard as a chemistry professor in a lab coat and khaki pants?

 Bottom line, no one should dictate your clothing choices.  My blazers have become my personal style. It is a style choice that some of my friends have called “the professor” as in: “why are you dressed like the professor today, we are going to the pub?”  This is always such a difficult topic for me, because I would never judge anyone for what they are wearing, yet I am not so naïve to think this is how society sees clothing and what people wear. 

Sure my style has been informed by the same popular culture stereotypes that the THE article reinforces.  Yes maybe I have seen The Paper Chase one too many times, but I wear what to me “feels” like academe and academe is comfortable to me.  And in case you were wondering most of my blazers have elbow patches (the bigger the better right?) but I haven’t taken to wearing bow-ties….yet!

(Update 2015, I now wear bowties as well, lol)


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