(Thursday Post Category–Here’s How You Get Tenure)
Egged on by the redoubtable Martina of TheLifeAcademic, I have agreed to do a series of posts on What Not To Wear (Campus Edition). She is on a mission to de-depress academic fashion, and this is a mission that I completely endorse. Just because we’re smart doesn’t mean we have to be dreary.
Readers, dress better! “Trust me, you’re gonna like the way you look.”
Seriously, you’ll be amazed at the boost this gives to your confidence. And the impact it has on the way you’re treated by students and colleagues.
There will be five posts in the series.
- Grad school
- Job market
- Assistant professor
- For the guys
And yes, these posts, except for the last, are directed toward women who present conventionally as women. I am not offering a post for butch dykes, although being a loyal femme fan of butch dykes, I’d be happy to (please email at firstname.lastname@example.org to request). And men just have less scope for error than women, and so they only get one post. Sad but true, women need more advising on this subject.
Today, Assistant Professor Edition.
Now to be perfectly honest, most assistant professors I have known have not dressed badly. That doesn’t mean they’ve dressed well. But they haven’t done anything sartorially that might actually destroy their chances for continued employment. The same cannot be said for job candidates.
So for today, I’m not going to make the sweeping critical judgments reserved for job candidates in my forthcoming “Job Market Edition.” I’m simply going to move top to bottom, from hair to shoes. I am channeling Stacy, and I make no apology about that. You may disagree, but you will not change my mind.
Hair: It is not illegal for an assistant professor to have a trendy haircut. Ditch the ponytail. Reject the pageboy (of any length). Show that you ARE All That. Spend the money on yourself to look good. Find the hottest hair salon in your town, and become a regular. You will be astounded at what a good haircut does for your confidence. If you do nothing else from this post, do this. Don’t know how to find the hottest hair salon? Go to the hottest coffeeshop, find the barista with the coolest haircut (male or female, it matters not), and ask them where they got it.
Skin and Makeup: I like makeup. Not everyone does. It’s optional, of course. If you go for it, and I think you should, let’s lean away from Wet N’ Wild and more toward L’Oreal and Revlon. No need to go into the overpriced department store brands at this stage in your career. I like Revlon Colorstay because I put it on in the morning and don’t have to think about it again. I recently discovered that lip stain makes a killer all-day blush.
Even if you don’t wear makeup, take care of your skin. It’s your largest organ! It deserves care! Use a toner and moisturizer. They feel good and make a difference.Do the occasional clay mask. Cheap ones are fine. I like organics, myself.
Jewelry: Wear conservative jewelry to job talks. You may wear conspicuous jewelry at large conferences. In your daily life in the department, aim for the middle. Beware of jangling bracelets.
Tops: Take out your tops and look at them them. Are they stained? Get them cleaned or throw them out. Are they ripped? Fix them or throw them out. We notice. Your students notice. Please.
Iron your shirts. I know there’s no time. But iron your shirts.
Your blouse must button completely over the girls. There must be no gapping of any kind. Wearing a camisole underneath the gapping blouse is not an acceptable solution. Your breasts must be, as Clinton says, locked and loaded, and covered in their entirety by your clothing. Cleavage and bra straps are unacceptable in any academic setting. Leave the hooker-wear to the undergraduates. Choose tops that don’t have to be tugged at to preserve modesty. Aside from these two rules, wear what you want. Take chances. Be visible! And your students will love you, simply love you, for any effort you make to stay current. And wear colors, I beg you. Black doesn’t make you smarter.
Addendum: Readers have asked what to do when you’re really busty and blouses just don’t work. I am not unfamiliar with this problem. I wear a lot of ruffled and embellished pullover blouses. Here are some photos:
On a related note, the fitted jacket is the assistant professor’s best friend. The best current fitted jackets look hip and professional. Have jackets in many colors. At TPII we disapprove of matchy-matchy for daily wear–but jackets can be combined with any skirts or pants in your wardrobe. Here are a few cute ones, from the Boden website. But DON’T buy jackets online! The fit is too tricky. See below.
***Be Aware: Jackets are hard to fit!. The best and most expensive jacket will not do its magic if it doesn’t fit YOUR body. And a badly fitting jacket will look the opposite of good. Jacket shopping can be grueling, like swimsuits. Put in the time. It’s worth it. The time you spend in the stores you’ll more than save in the mornings when you’re rushing out the door for the 8 AM class.
Bottoms: Pants or skirt? The perennial question. I don’t think it matters. You must be comfortable. Just leave behind the trailing earthmother skirts you wore in graduate school. You are a young professional. You have to look like one. Old-timers bewail the homogenization of the assistant professoriate, in their sea of dull grey suits. Nevertheless, own a grey suit. Just make it really, really stylish grey suit. And wear it with killer shoes.
Shoes: You don’t need to wear heels if you don’t usually. Flats or even better, flat-heeled boots (ankle boots or knee-height) are great. If you do like heels, for the job interview, wear a heel between 1 and 3 inches. I don’t recommend flats because, frankly, you need the height. Above 3 inches, and you’re tottering. I wear this kind of heel every day, but that’s me. I like heels. Avoid stillettos and kitten heels–they stick in sidewalk cracks and trip you. The round or square toe and a stacked heel keeps you safe from falling over as you approach the podium. Beyond these rules, express yourself. Have the hippest shoes that you can pull off. They give you mystique. They say, “I’m brilliant AND I’m cool suckaz.” You want your students to be a little bit intimidated, and your colleagues to feel a little bit inadequate.
Your Briefcase: You’re not still using a backpack because that would be sad. You bike to work? Of course you have a messenger bag. Now take out your briefcase and look at it. Is it stained? Is it ripped? Is it canvas? Throw it out and go buy yourself a high quality, stylish leather or microfiber briefcase, preferably black, but there’s some give on that one. If you want a limited edition graphic designer item, go for it. It’ll add to your mystique: “Oh this? It’s from London, so, yeah….”
How to afford all this on an assistant professor’s salary? Second hand boutiques. Any college town worth its salt will have at least one and probably a handful of high quality second hand women’s clothing boutiques. Shop at these, and you can cover 75% of your clothing needs. True, you’re buying your undergraduates’ cast-offs, and have to hate your life to some extent. But, whatever. I didn’t buy new clothes until after I was tenured.
Why do all this? Because image matters. And because you’ll feel better. And when you feel better, you perform better. Don’t believe me? Try it out for a month, and find out for yourself.
“Trust me, you’re gonna like the way you look.”