Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Chronically Overdressed

School has begun, and the weather is hot, humid, and ex-
hausting, especially when carrying large books around.  With this particularly uncomfortable weather, I experienced an equally uncomfortable question: what do I wear to class?

This is not a question that I ask myself often, probably because I haven't been reading fuss-budgety clothing stories in our rag of the trade: The Chronicle of Higher Education.  And that is a good thing because every time I do read a story on scholarly dressing, I become so annoyed that I want to deconstruct it, as well as my closet, stat.

The most recent article on clothing and--oy vey--professorial *hotness* was brought to my attention by the smart scholars and dressers chez In Professorial Fashion.

The "classic" and original take on academic clothing (in the words of the Chronicle's Ms. Mentor) is this piece, also from the Chronicle.  In it, Mr. Mentor notes that professors should err on the side of frumpiness and former enfant terrible, now cranky senior terrible Camille Pagila thinks that professors who demonstrate their personal style--even their personality--engage in a "corruption of education."

But seriously, presenting a drab physical shell doesn't consequently shine a brighter light on the ideas that one puts forth.

If this prof owned the above Louis Vuitton ensemble (I like how it's shown sideways), I would gladly wear it to class, perhaps one on the Bronte sisters or Edith Wharton.  NY Mag labels it "relaxed up top" (above the cut line) and a "party down below." 

I don't want to--and don't think we need to--toe the dingy party line that the Chronicle has been espousing, especially when there are so many glorious shoes to be worn.


WendyB said...

I want to put this on my business card: cranky senior terrible.

Wendy Brandes
Cranky Senior Terrible

That's awesome.

And I don't think students learn more from drab people!

Belle de Ville said...

The Camille Paglia description is brilliant.
My daughter just started classes this week and she has a poetry professor with blue streaks in in her hair. She finds it pretentious and that affects how she views the intelligence of the prof.
Professional demeanor does matter.

La Belette Rouge said...

Can you imagine how wonderful it is to have a professor with so much style? I am sure that they adore you and envy you your exceptional shoe collection.

Deja Pseu said...

Oh please, who listens to Paglia anyway? She's positively retrograde. Feh. I think a stylish prof would have more credibility!

Miss Cavendish said...

BTW: Paglia's comment is from 1998. I haven't listened to her since I saw how she made the cover of Sexual Personae into an image of herself (her famous one-raised eyebrow pose) via a cut-and-paste of Dickinson and Nefertiti. Now that was a corruption!

materfamilias said...

I find this debate so tiresome -- smacks of that whole "life of the mind" attitude, the Cartesian separation, etc., etc., -- All kinds of partriarchal overtones as well.
I know we're supposed to view ideas/education for their own sake and not be concerned about relevance to the material specifics of the quotidian, but I heartily believe that when students see me engage with their world -- and style/fashion is part of that -- they are more likely to engage back. Much of what I do in the classroom involves pointing out how discourse works, and trying to illuminate the many discourses we are caught up in at any one time -- I find style to be such a wonderful illustration of that!
And besides, anyone with the aesthetic sensitivity to appreciate well-strung-together, exquisitely appropriate words may very likely have that aesthetic energy spill over into self-representation.

If Belle's daughter is correct in her assessment of her poetry prof's personality via the blue-streaked hair, does she not think that pretentious would show up in other ways? Causation vs. correlation and all that, and maybe it's just as well for students to have a ready marker: Danger -- pretentious prof in this class, drop course now!

Pretending we're above it all, living our lofty "life of the mind" in tired tweeds does a serious disservice to whatever we teach . . . I'm betting you've inspired many students to think they can love literature and rock some Pucci all at the same time!

Miss Cavendish said...

My favorite professor during my undergraduate career, who was also a woman, inspired me precisely BECAUSE she dressed with color and silhouette in mind while holding forth brilliantly on Atwood and Bronte.

And she even talked to us about this issue, remarking that a female professor's sartorial presence was going to be discussed, down to whether her shoes matched her handbag.

I'd love to move beyond the tweedy stereotype. In fact, Mater, you've inspired me to wear my stretchy Pucci headwrap (hairband, really) while teaching, say, William Bradford?

materfamilias said...

I'd love to sit in on that class!

Anonymous said...

You are so right. I love the piece above! I want it. I'm having the same issue. Checking out the link.

Anonymous said...

Regarding your thoughts on professorial garb -- YOU GO, GIRL!!