Dressing the academic

People who go into academia aren’t known for their fashion sense (unless of course they are art professors or have to dress nicely in the business school).  One reason I fit into an academic setting is that I don’t have to worry about the fact that my fashion sense is practically non-existent.

Lately several factors have conspired to make dressing even harder.  First of all, some of my nice pants are at the tailor.  Now they are all hemmed and ready to go and they fit and I can wear them with everything… except that I keep failing to actually drive over and pick them up.  Oops.

Also, the weather.  It’s too cold to wear just a button-down shirt, but not cold enough for my heavy sweaters.  Layers are the order of the day, which means that I have to find more pieces that go together per day.  It’s too cold to wear a skirt without tights underneath, but I don’t have that many pairs of tights to wear them as often as I want.  (This is easily fixable, when I get around to it.)

When I go to pick out my outfit for the next day, I am usually tired and on my way to bed.  Last night I picked out something I thought would look nice, but then when I went to put it on this morning I discovered it wasn’t going to work.  So I had to make a last-minute wardrobe change, which worked but left me feeling underdressed, so then I had to figure out which jewelry to add to make it dressier.  I went out feeling like I still looked odd.

The even weirder part is that it seems to be working.  For example, today my colleague complimented me on my sweater and jewelry.  Luckily I have a couple of hard-working cotton sweaters in great colors that look nice and go with everything.  I’m wearing a bunch of skirts recently because I gained weight and most of my pants don’t fit right.  Strangely (to me), I get a bunch of compliments on skirts that I got at Goodwill.  (#2:  Love skirts… hate shaving.)

Plans for easier dressing involve more Goodwill skirts and pants, more tights, and getting some very awesome boots next month.  But what’s an academic to do?  Clearly I have very bad calibration on what other people think about my appearance.  Fortunately it doesn’t have to matter whether I look a little strange as long as I look professional; sartorial expectations are not high.

Is it possible that the part of my brain that tells me what to wear suddenly died?

#2 says:  I really suck at fashion.  I tend to go shopping about once every two years, generally at a conference (Jan sales!) with friends who can pick things out for me.  I drop about $600 at these trips, but it is well worth it.  (My wardrobe is very East coast because my friends are very east coast– blacks, browns, greys, and whatever Ann Taylor color is in season.  Back in college my clothing was very West coast for the same reason… I do kind of miss colors, but not enough to buy any, other than what’s at Ann Taylor, of course.)  When I was pregnant I bought things in lots that someone else had chosen for when they were pregnant.  That worked great too.  Other than a ring, I own zero jewelry.  Accessorizing would hurt my puny brain.  It’s actually been almost two years since my last shopping spree, but I’ve told myself no more clothing until I get the pants hemmed from the last trip!  I need to wear those black pants…

What’s your dressing philosophy?  Do you enjoy picking out clothing?  How do you decide what to buy and what to wear?

16 Responses to “Dressing the academic”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    I’ve been wearing skirts too..same reason, they are more slimming. I HIGHLY recommend that you get a pair of knee high boots. They keep you warm in the winter, can be warn with pants and most importantly, eliminate the need for shaving and tights (both of which I hate).

    I’m tall, with linebacker like shoulders and monkey arms, so it’s Super hard to find clothes that fit well.

    Most of my dressy tops are polyester prints or something else that can be washed+dried+not ironed. My button downs end up sitting in my needs to be ironed pile and never get worn.

    I’ve fallen in love with ex-officio irresistible sweaters. You can dress them up and down and they last and look good years later. They’re super warm with a tank underneath or you can just wear them on their own for spring/fall. I also have started buying necklaces at yard sales. They make a big difference in how dressy you look.


    I bought a bunch at the end of last season for like $22 on sierra trading post.

    So, my MO is to wear black/brown or grey bottom, a brighter top with a blazer to finish the look and keep me warm. In the winter, I live in stretchy turtlenecks. Usually the blazer doesn’t match the pants Ie, black pants, grey blazer, but sometimes I’ll coordinate.

    I used to do button down sweaters, but it looked too school teacher, so I axed those. I also have a red wool coat that always makes me feel hip because the rest of my wardrobe is pretty boring.

    Right now, I need more tops and a couple more blazers.

  2. Everyday Tips Says:

    My dressing philosophy is, I wish we didn’t have to wear anything ever besides comfy outfits. I hate fashion and I am unfashionable. I am not colorblind, just clueless. I am a standard jeans or black pants kind of gal. I have problems with metal allergies, so I rarely wear jewelry. Even the wedding ring just sits in the jewelry box.

    If I had more confidence in throwing outfits together, it would be much easier. I was just born without that gene unfortunately.

  3. Linda Says:

    I don’t like to shop very much, especially for clothes. It seems if I do find some style/cut of clothing that fits well the stores stop carrying it shortly after I buy and I can never find it again. (Levi’s Curvy Boot Cut jeans, I’m talkin’ ’bout you!)

    Fashion is something I don’t pay much attention to, either. I go for classic stuff of good quality in an effort to minimize shopping trips. For work I have to dress “business casual.” That means I can dress in khakis if I want, but I rarely do since it’s hard to find any that fit me well. I wear one of three classic cut suits most often since they are easy to put on: pants, dressy knit shirt/light sweater/no-iron button down shirt, matching jacket. Done. I may wear earrings and a necklace or I may not. I don’t wear jewelry much.

    Layering is the norm for me since I’m moving between the outside and the inside so much. (Walking to train, riding train, walking to office, working in office; reverse.) The office is usually too cold for me, summer and winter, so I always have a jacket or cardigan with me. When I’m really freezing I wrap myself in a gigantic mohair shawl that I keep at the office. The colors are crazy, but it’s amazingly warm.

    Skirts aren’t something I wear much. I seem to have trouble finding flattering ones and outside the summer season my legs get too cold while I’m waiting on the train platform. Tights help if they’re wool or cotton, but I have to special order those online. None of the local shops seem to carry tights that are made of anything but nylon.

    Most of the time, I try to telecommute, though. I’m telecommuting right now and still in my pjs. I can wear whatever I want when I telecommute. :-)

  4. frugalscholar Says:

    People tend to compliment you when you look different.

    Lots of academics dress well–esp the famous ones. Even the men are competitive about what they wear and who looks best.

  5. LindyMint Says:

    I went to college in hippie mountain town and became very comfortable in my jeans, hoodies and thrifted t-shirts. The hardest part about being in the professional world is faking my fashion sense. I think after 10 years of doing it though, I’ve gotten pretty good. But I don’t wear jewelry, too complicated.

    Those transition seasons are a pain, like you said. Every time it starts to get cold I remember that I don’t have a good all-purpose winter coat. I never bought one last year. And tights, not comfy. It’s hard being a girl.

  6. I’m Not the Best Dressed « Crystal Clear Thoughts Says:

    […] to check back in on my monthly progress updates. Thanks for visiting! I was reading the post, Dressing the Academic, at Grumpy Rumblings of the Untenured and once again realized that I am a lazy […]

  7. SS4BC Says:

    Hahaha… I love this post.

    Also an untenured prof here, and lemme tell ya, I’m lucky that I can coordinate colors some days. I’m so freakin’ lazy with my clothes.

    To the point where I’ve had two MALE students (non-gay) comment on them. “That is an interesting pant choice!”

  8. slick Says:

    Blue jeans go with everything–except a denim jacket–
    and tweed coats don’t wrinkle. But wear black shoes–brown shoes and everyone at WalMart knows you’re a teacher “over at the college.”

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I think everyone can tell that already, we college profs are the only ones not wearing university t-shirts and/or sweats 24/7. (Lots of school spirit out here in the hinterlands…)

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