Looking Sharp: New(er) Faculty Dress Code

Dressing the Part | New Faculty


Faculty life is great because there’s not really a dress code. You can be fancy free and be free to be you. It’s a blessing and a curse. I never met a pair of pants made of elastic I didn’t like but I always like looking sharp and getting my game face on too.

Some days are for grading. Which means they’re also for pants that are loose, comfortable, and will often be made of spandex and elastic. Other days are for meetings. Those days require pants that button, zip, the appropriate length, and perhaps even have a blazer that goes with them. What do you want to exude? As a lady faculty, who also happens to look young but is carrying some extra weight, I struggle. I know what people see when they look at me…I wasn’t born last night! (and yes, i’m working on it!).

I want to be taken seriously as an academic at the table and look as smart as the things that may or may not come out of my mouth. I know that I need to do a few things to achieve this. One is dressing the part. While I was home this summer, my dad and I went out to dinner. I put on some clothes (duh) and his comment, “you’re dressed too fancy for this part of the world.” While I appreciated his compliment (yes, I was overdressed), this is what my clothes look like now. I still have a pile of t-shirts and a few pairs of jeans I love, but when I get up and swim in the tub every morning, the t-shirts and jeans aren’t going on post shower.

This is a first world problem to the max. Yes, I joke about them all of the time in real life. But it is something I spend time and capitol thinking about. Subscribing to Stitch Fix helps. I ran across this post by tenure she wrote and it caused me to actually reflect on it. Then, I ran across this post by small pond science and I thought about it some more….dang you brain. I don’t look like a sage, older faculty yet. I can only count a few gray hairs, a few wrinkles, and that’s about it at last count. The fountain of youth has smiled on me, which is usually a good thing, unless you’re trying to work in academia. Since the stereotype isn’t changing anytime soon, and I’m not wishing for more gray hairs and wrinkles, I compensate by dressing well. I have taken the cues from my peers the first few years on faculty and worked to dress a bit more professionally. Only this year have I had any extra income to actually start investing in nicer pieces. I loved my last faculty appointment, but I’ll be real honest and say this, “it didn’t pay very well at all.” There wasn’t much left over for a structured blazer at the end of the month. No one’s fault, I loved the work.

My friend and I were discussing this and her comment was, “you always look really sharp” and I blurted out “it’s bc i have too! I know what I look like! I compensate in clothes!” and it’s true.

As a female in academia (ok, so as a female on planet earth), I do spend more time thinking about what I’m wearing, how it fits, are the fat bits poking out too far, etc… while I’d love to embrace the notion of “we’re all bodies & we’re all beautiful” academia is a place where that doesn’t register. You need to get some fresh pants on kids. Stat.

Another faculty complimented me b/c I put together good color combo’s and it was then I admitted “I google color schemes” and “I send a pic to my friend if I’m not sure.” I could have taken the credit for being well put together all on my own, but some days, I don’t know what looks good. And that’s the truth.

My favorite google search on clothes goes something like this:

“colors that compliment ________(insert color).”

Google is real nice. It always spits me out some images and a few sites that I always go too. It has yet to fail me, unlike the rest of the Internet.

As a younger and still relatively new faculty member, I have to work at getting dressed. The blessing of not having a dress code is that I can swing into campus in whatever I want, but that’s not the message I want to send to my colleagues. I went to grad school with a girl who wore yoga pants every day. Everyone stared at her butt when she left a room, but they rarely stared at her face when she spoke. Whether we like it or not, those stereotypes aren’t going away. Building a functional wardrobe has been key for me. At least I’ll look good when you read the grammar mistakes on my syllabus…….


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