Saturday, September 30, 2006

What To Wear, 2

More random thoughts on Un/Professional Attire

I used to think that my husband could wear whatever he wanted to conferences year after year, but that I couldn't. I was envious that he would just throw some nice-ish shirts into his suitcase (the same shirts he wears for teaching), and not think anything more about it. A few years ago, however, a Rather Famous Person in his field said to him at a conference "Is that your meeting shirt?". I laughed so much, and am still too entertained by this to this day. Now, although I can't say that he gives a huge amount of thought to what he wears at conferences, he does at least pause and wonder, "Did I wear this last time?".

Another challenge for the Modern Young Male in academia today: I have several students who wear baseball caps ALL THE TIME, even at meetings. I think I wrote about this a few months ago. My female students may well come across as more serious just because they dress more professionally at conferences. When a prospective graduate student approaches me at a meeting to discuss their application or potential application to work with me, I don't mind if they are wearing a baseball cap or are otherwise informally dressed, but I greatly dislike talking to people (students, anyone) when they are chewing gum. Memo to prospective students: lose the chewing gum before talking to potential advisors.

I have a male colleague who makes crude and lascivious comments when he sees women (young or old) dressed in an alluring way. His behavior disgusts me, but there is some satisfaction in the fact that most women think he is a troll. He once said to me "You should see me in the summer when I'm not wearing a shirt and I'm tan and in shape from hiking in the mountains." I just laughed, in what I hope was a not very nice way, and said "I could do without seeing that". I prefer to think that there is no one on this planet who would respond in a positive way to his invitation, but the fact that he is married implies that there is at least one person who at some point found him attractive.

Men and women in my field tend to dress rather the same (not counting the baseball cap fashion, which seems to be a male phenomenon) in the U.S., even at meetings, but this was not the case during my recent year in Europe. This became clear to me the first time I was invited to attend a science/business/social event, and asked a colleague what level of formality of dress was typical. He said "Oh just wear what you wear to work in the department, that's what I do." So I did. And he did as well, and he fit in perfectly with what all the men were wearing. The women, however, were extremely elegantly dressed. One woman was wearing a slinky, low-cut red silk dress with high heeled shoes. Another woman was wearing a see-through filmy top over black lingerie. I wore a black sweater and black jeans, similar to what several of the men were wearing, so I was dressed appropriately, but apparently it was only appropriate for the gender I am not. At least I wasn't wearing a baseball cap..

6 comments:

kasmic said...

two words: Eileen Fisher

a few more words: Eileen Fisher makes clothes for all sizes, comfy and stylish, unfortunately pricey so buy on sale!

My other default is some sort of twin set--boring but conveys seriousness even with a fun color, can be worn with a skirt or jeans or whatever, you can take off the cardigan part if you are having a hot flash :-)

Unfortunately it always matters what women wear (Katie Couric, e.g.) and men can get away with almost anything! GRRRR...

Anonymous said...

Somehow as women, what we wear has to prove our professionalism / authority, especially to those who do not know us much, for example undergraduate students in our classes and people in conferences.

B said...

I was just having this conversation w/ a colleague. We were both trying to figure out what to wear at our upcoming conference. I notice the females wear nicer things trying to look professional, while many males where a short sleeved polo or just a t-shirt.

meijusa said...

You must have been in a different subset of Europe than me, or maybe it's a question of field/discipline. I haven't seen overdressed women at conferences or universities, but I'm in Computer Science and there it's an almost reverse relationship: the shabbier and more casual you look, the more of a genius you must be. Pants (including jeans) and t-shirts or shirts are the norm for both genders at the conferences I've attended. Interesting to hear that your experience was so different.

Anonymous said...

I have always found this quite complicated, for I attend many events where sometimes they will spell out specifically what level of dress they expect and that will correlate directly to a level of dress for men, but such a professional orientation just doesn't exist for younger women yet (especially if you're in your 20s and on something of a budget...) and it can become very stressful to try to 'fit in' when you KNOW you're supposed to wear 'business' or 'business casual' at something and you just can't figure out what that's supposed to BE and you HAVE to be taken seriously!

Anonymous said...

I am a female european microbiologist in my 20s and to conferences we always wear what we would wear in the lab- either jeans with a slightly more formal top than normal, or black trousers with a casual blouse/top. You dont need a jacket unless youre presenting a talk then it might make you feel more formal. I usually wear trousers with a boot with a heel, although as I used to work in sales I might put in more effort than some!