“I’ve got a ‘grown-up jacket’ … It’s nothing special, but I wear it to teach or present papers or to go to a conference if I’m nervous about meeting people there. The person who wears the jacket is confident and knows all the answers and stands up straight” (Hollie Morgan)
I really liked this statement, which Hollie made about how academic dress can relate to confidence. So I decided to write a post about my impressions on clothing and academia. Despite the diversity in academic dress that I have observed recently, the point remains: your clothes, whether smart, ironed, comfy, creased, baggy, or tight, have an important relationship with the presentation of your ideas in person as a student or researcher. Clothes might create an impression about your personality or mood and, as in Hollie’s case, might help to craft a positive state of mind.
At a recent conference, I saw an excellent talk. It was engaging, ground-breaking, packed with information … and the speaker was not wearing any shoes. Yes, he was barefoot. I do not know if sans shoes is usually his style – but it worked for him.
As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I have a background in marketing and academic administration alongside my academic experience. Dress has always been an important part of my day, especially in non-academic office jobs. When your job involves working in an office all day and following a similar routine from day to day, wearing bright, fun, clothes can bring a bit of changeability and self-expression into the role. I am hardly a clotheshorse for the latest haute couture, but I will admit that the compliments that I have received about the way that I present myself at work have always brought with them a warm glow. I like to express myself through my clothes. In my case, if I am shabbily dressed, it is usually symptomatic of a (hopefully temporary) absence of mind. Basically, something’s going wrong inside, as well as outside. As an academic, I do believe in branding. The way you dress, speak, your body language, are all part of who you are as an academic. I am not saying that means you have to be a snappy dresser – I know plenty of academics who dress quite casually, and that is part of their brand. Finally, I am not implying that I siphon off my postdoctoral wages straight into expensive clothes stores (most of my clothes are second hand), but I do think about what I look like. As Hollie said, and going back to my previous post on confidence, clothes can provide some reinforcement: if you look good, you appear confident to others, no matter what is going on inside your head.
One of the things that I love about academia, and always have done since I found my ‘place’ upon leaving school and moving away to university, is the way that it embraces difference, and even eccentricity. I have always felt like I stand out in some ways: I’m taller than average, possibly occasionally kooky, and have a regional accent that makes me unusual in academic circles (though, due to relocation, this is fading which makes me sad). Finding expression through the clothes that I choose to present myself in is part of this. I was recently reading an article that described City bankers turning to unscrupulous payday loan companies to boost their collection of designer handbags in order to fit in at work. Thank the Lord, that is never going to be an issue for me. The main prerequisite for my handbag, is that it fits my laptop in it and is not going to fall apart when I shove and slam it into the locker at the British Library. So, when I think of the people I have met recently who have made most of an impact on me through their academic dress, I think of the expert in teaching and learning who was wearing some majorly snappy tweed and a swish moustache. I think of my friend, who is never seen wearing black and always has the bright clothes to match her red hair. Hollie in her power jacket. Or I think of that scholar without any shoes, but with a demeanor as cool as a cucumber.