Academic Dress Code?

Oh, the self-hate! Over at The Common Review you can sample this article, Why We Look So Bad, by

Basically, she’s just an academic who thinks professors (to her credit, including herself) don’t dress well enough in general, and that they really aren’t keeping up with the rest of the professional world. Why they should bother, why they should care, seems beyond me. Young people, in droves, are giving up keeping up. After all, it’s all just a way of putting money into the pockets of whoever seems to be deciding this season’s fashions.

I’m not saying we ought to wrap ourselves in sheets to teach, but hey, if the University classroom is the one place where students can encounter people to whom content matters much more than form, then more power to the profs who don’t give a damn about these flimsy cloth wrappings we put onto ourselves. I’m not saying we should fight back by dressing like crap, either. But I am saying that I think a lot of people actually don’t much care about clothes, don’t care to keep up. And hey, are they hurting anyone?

Themselves? Maybe. The University? Maybe.

Of course, the barbarian hordes weren’t laughing because the professors were in the wrong, outmoded fashions. (I’m referring to something the author, Regina Barreca, mentioned in the article, but since I don’t have permission to reprint anything I’ll just trust you to read the link.) They were laughing because they were radically different people, people who they didn’t “get”. Modern academics and everyone else is closer to the ancient academic than we are to the Picts or Visigoths, but at the same time, modern academics of the best kind are a lot closer to the ancient academics than they are to the rest of us. That’s why they know so damned much: the time that professionals spend buying shoes they don’t need, good academics spend studying.

It’s the same reason they’re not “Highly Effective People”… they can’t be bothered reading moronic books about what Stephen Covey tells us would make us better cogs in whatever machine we find ourselves inside. They’re bright people who, yeah, sometimes have radically different values from us. I respect Peter Singer far more for having one suit than I respect some Orchestra Fundraiser Guy for being slick as hell. Talk to him long enough and you realize you know more about orchstral music than this guy does. (Or so has my limited experience shown, which may be unfair as I studied music in college, but hey…)

I’m not dissing fund-raisers, though. People who seek sponsorship for orchestras don’t need to know music that well, they just need to know enough. Or, rather, orchestras need them just to know enough. Similarly, students don’t need professors who are style queens and kings; as long as people know enough to be presentable, that should suffice.

To the degree that Barreca is simply asking people try to look presentable, well, okay. But beyond that, it’s a silly demand. And, I hate to say it, it’s a bit of a stereotype. Most of the professors I studied with in school were better-dressed than the majority of other people I saw in daily life.

Most of them. But you know what? The ones I remember most fondly, as being my best teachers and the ones who mattered most to both my education and whatever direction I took in life, I remember nothing at all about their clothing. I don’t remember if they were slobs or suave. And, I think, that says something.

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