Monday, December 31, 2007

Cause I do look a lot different outside my work clothes

UNC philosopher Jesse Prinz (or someone claiming to be him) asks a question worthy of its own thread:
[W]hat do you folks think about the fact that people on the market are expected to dress in a way that significantly departs from what we wear in the classroom?
To which I add a (related) question: Which is more regrettable, that many philosophers teach while slovenly dressed, or that job candidates are expected to wear semi-formal attire?

35 comments:

That guy said...

I was going to synagogue for high holidays in a new city with a friend of the family. I asked her whether I should wear a suit. She said "No, just wear whatever you wear to teach. But don't wear jeans." I didn't know how to follow her advice, because I wear jeans to teach.

Not that this answers any of the questions.

Anonymous said...

The APA should actively endorse phone interviews for the initial selections. This would save everyone tonnes of hassle and scratch as well as avoid nasty facts about facial/appearance discrimination.

I'm too sexy for my bow-tie said...

Look, in the real world, books are judged by their covers, and so are people. It's a rule of thumb to weed out the unworthy: In publishing, if you have an uninspired or poorly-designed cover, that raises questions about the quality of your work, e.g., how detail-oriented are you, and if your work is so good, how come you didn't sign with a big publisher who could afford to invest in cover art? In judging people (and yes, we can't help but to judge), those who dress poorly might be assumed to be poor or unindustrious. Or worse, they are oblivious to etiquette, convention, social trends, decency, etc.

Granted, this rule of thumb is fallible; but like all rules of thumb (as a rule of thumb), it works most of the time. It's called generalization: If I ate this thing called a 'carrot' and it nourishes me, then I can expect other such things to be edible and nutritious. It's a waste of time to cautiously nibble every thing you encounter that seems to be a carrot. But somehow, when generalities are applied to people, they are pejoratives. (Compare this with generalizing about the different breeds of canine: German Shepards tend to be X, chihuahuas tend to be Y.)

If we can reasonably judge people by their clothes--and I think we can--then we should want to be colleagues with people who can play nice with others, i.e., recognize and observe convention when appropriate. To dress inappropriately signals a contrarian view or worse.

Of course, all this goes out the window when you're tenured and have already fooled them all. Suckers...

Anonymous said...

I still maintain that the schmoozer should be a semi-formal affair. The job candidates already meet the bar (for the most part) and if the rest of us want to be fawned over, we should dress suitably for being fawned. And frankly, if we are expected to dress well we might all behave a bit better too. My dissertation director had a bunch of photos of department functions from the 70s and 80s and let me tell you, it was nice to see folks dressed respectably and appropriately groomed.

While I can buy Alan Watts' type arguments about the oppressiveness of sartorial expectations, in the end I just want people to look a bit stylish both in and out of the classroom.

(And for the record, Jesse Prinz, despite (or perhaps because of) his blue hair, knows how to dress appropriately.)

Anonymous said...

I would like to point out that not all graduate students in philosophy come from social/ethnic/economic backgrounds that equip them to handle the etiquette/fashion expectations that seem to be (if the comments on this blog are any indication) mercilessly foisted upon them. I am graduate student, I have been for 3 years now, the only tweed coat I own is 7 years old, from my freshmen year. I don't usually have hundreds to spend on shirts and shoes.

leopo said...

RE: Jesse's question: I wouldn't even blink at the practice of wearing different clothes to interview than we do to work. Lots of fields are like this. (If Mike Singletary goes to interview for the Falcon's coaching job, he won't turn up in a uniform!) We dress up for interviews for the same reason we shower before interviews and shake hands with the interviewer: because that's what it is to participate respectfully in this social institution. This is a perfectly good reason.

RE: the added question of the post: it won't surprise you to learn that I find it not even a little regrettable that job candidates are expected to dress up. Slovenly dress which teaching is regrettable -- but more regrettable still is the wide number of people who don't know the difference between casual and slovenly. I don't mind casual dress for teaching -- so long as you look good and can command respect.

leopo said...

Responding to anon-7:35:

Well, not to be unduly harsh, but: welcome to the real world. I would like to point out that not all members of [insert whatever professional field you like] come from backgrounds that equip them to handle etiquette and fashion expectations. Those people are, fairly or not, at a disadvantage. The smart ones will make a point of working to learn how to appear and behave, despite the head start of their colleagues.

Anonymous said...

I think you've missed the point, leopo. The question is, "Should the real world be as it is?" Your answer, "Welcome to the real world," is pretty clearly inadequate. Even pointing out that other bits of the real world are similar doesn't do much to address the question.

Nothin to do on NYE said...

An optimist thinks that this is the best of all possible worlds. A pessimist fears this is so.

Anonymous said...

Leopo...there are some deficits that no amount of work can make up for. Ivy league students with upperclass or upper-middle class backgrounds can afford to fork over five or six thousand USD on a good suit. Students from schools elsewhere, especially state schools, who are already going into massive debt to obtain their phds, should not be expected to be even close to similarly attired. Such an expectation puts them at an unfair economic disadvantage.

Anonymous said...

If I've ever seen a job candidate wearing a $5-6k suit, I failed to notice. A few hundred wouldn't hurt, though.

Anonymous said...

Clothing is highly conventional and one's choice of clothing tends to be highly visible socially. And how we so clothed appear socially is a product of many different factors,some personal and some very specific to ones viewers, and still others.
We don't have a great deal of control over how others see us, but expectations about 'how candidates should dress' can be seen as restoring a bit of control to you. It's a game; you can play it or opt out; if you opt out, generally you will have less say in what your impact is.
And this is just the beginning. Professional professorial life is a career for which one is paid as a member of a community. Further, if you want tenure in a fairly good place, then you need to develop some sort of professional reputation. All this involves interacting with other people in ways that get you favorable reactions.
So it seems reasonable to me that if department has a job going, they are entitled to consider whether the person they are considering can function as a member of a community. Some people who are not very skilled socially may have genius as a compensating trait. But if you aren't pretty clearly extremely unusually brilliant, you might be well advised to consider getting control over your social impact, to the extent that you can.

Leopo is a Tool said...

And an unduly harsh one at that.

I was an Ivy-league grad student who spent months combing the local thrift stores for suitable APA attire. Stipends is stipends. It sucks to be poor. Moreover, even now that I am making enough scratch to at least go to the Men's Wearhouse and get a presentable costume, it don't make it right. I never learned to tie a tie properly because my family never had the money to buy me the sort of clothes where a tie would be appropriate. I am never comfortable "dressed up", and it shows. These sartorial expectations are very much class and culture driven. It isn't just the "real world" that we who were born to the wrong set of parents have to suck up and deal with. Declaring it so and expecting everyone to accept the premise is complete and utter bullshit.

Shall I drop you off in the neighborhood where I grew up and expect you to figure out which blocks are kinda unsafe, which blocks are very unsafe, and which blocks will get you beaten up for wearing the wrong colors? Which world is that, exactly?

mr. zero said...

suits do not cost six thousand dollars. it's reasonable to require job applicants to show up in a suit. that's what grown-ups do.

Anonymous said...

I've been on both sides of the table. As a candidate, I wore a cheap suit that was four years old (and got a TT job first time out). As an interviewer, I care only that our candidates make an effort to appear professional. I could care less whether the clothes are expensive or fashionable. They just need to be neat, clean and professional-looking. For example, I would never hold it against a male candidate that he wore a tie and slacks but not a suit. But a polo shirt and chinos would be much too informal, a sign that he wasn't taking the interview as seriously as I am (and when I interview I'm still wearing that cheap suit, now 11 years old).

leopo said...

If, for whatever reason, I wanted to make my life in the neighborhood where LiaT grew up, I'd face the disadvantage of not knowing how to dress and which blocks were the more dangerous ones.

I'd try to start with some training and practice with friends and colleagues who knew the area and the culture.

I feel like I must be missing the point again, because I don't see it.

Anonymous said...

Ignore the strawman in the $6000 suit.

$200-$300 at discount for a decent suit that fits well gets you all the sartorial points. There is no advantage at the APA, whatsoever, to having anything nicer. These aren't I-Banker associate interviews.

Anonymous said...

"I never learned to tie a tie properly because my family never had the money to buy me the sort of clothes where a tie would be appropriate. I am never comfortable "dressed up", and it shows. These sartorial expectations are very much class and culture driven."

This is a _very_ good point. The same point can be made about the 'cocktail' party atmosphere of the smoker. It's familiar to people from some backgrounds, but it alienates others and triggers strong feelings of self-doubt and non-belonging in others, again for class based reasons.

will philosophize for food said...

Am I the only one waiting not-so-patiently for the ads to start rolling in when the APA staff returns on the 2nd or so?

Anonymous said...

The only thing I found strange was that the interviewers were, on the whole, much more casually dressed than the interviewees. If they don't wear suits why should we?

Anonymous said...

This whole class argument is a load of shit! I grew up in a family where my father made $24,000 to support myself and my incredibly sick mother. I grew up in a relatively poor area of a good sized western city, and I had friends (when I was in high school and they had dropped out) that got shot because they were wearing the wrong clothes.

However, I learned how to tie a tie--as a matter of fact, i learned how this year so that i could be put together for the APA. And as for the cocktail atmosphere of the smoker, it is weird and unfamiliar to a lot of us with less advantaged backgrounds. but get the fuck over it.

The class shit goes far deeper in academia than all of this. Just being in a place where lots of people are children of academics or children of people who went to good schools puts you at a severe disadvantage in making sense of what the fuck people are talking about a lot of the time. If you were so bothered by the fact that you were in an environment that disrespected your economic background you would have left academia long before you made it to the smoker.

There are a lot of ways of being disadvantaged in philosophy, but dressing respectably for the APA isn't one of them. You are absolutely fooling yourself if you think that you would have found a job in your disadvantaged background without having to dress differently.

To be fair, I worked throwing boxes out of trailers all the way through college and at the beginning of grad school. For that job I didn't have to clean up for the interview. But I also ended up with a fucked up back from that job that will make me miserable for the rest of my life. If you want any sort of job where you have a remote chance of being happy, regardless of what your class background is, you need to clean up.

Anonymous said...

If, for whatever reason, I wanted to make my life in the neighborhood where LiaT grew up, I'd face the disadvantage of not knowing how to dress and which blocks were the more dangerous ones.

So upper-class folk have a built-in advantage at going for upper-class jobs, and lower-class folk have a built-in advantage at living in neighborhoods where they might be shot. Nothing inequitable about that. Also, the law forbids the rich and poor equally to sleep under bridges.

"Everyone's more at home in class environments like the one I grew up in" is no argument for complacency about academia's inhospitability to non-upper-middle-class folks. We ought to try to think of ways to lessen that inhospitability. But it'd have to go beyond changing dress expectations -- I know someone who argues that the slovenly grad-school look is actually a sign of class privilege.

Anonymous said...

Look. "The profession," as it's called, is inhospitable to women, minorities, and people from disadvantaged backgrounds. That much is obvious. However, it is not because you have to wear a suit and a necktie to your interviews. What is it caused by? I don't know. What will fix it? I don't know. But I do know this: letting people show up to their interviews in sweat pants or whatever will not fix it.

I guess I just don't see what the big deal is. Yeah, buying nice clothes on a grad student stipend is a hardship, and it sucks, and it seems unnecessary. But it is necessary. It's part of making a good impression on your potential colleagues. And it's far from the most serious hardship associated with the hiring process. Between a hotel room, traveling there and back, eating out every meal, paying to park, etc, I just spent something like six or seven hundred dollars on a pointless trip to Baltimore, at a time of year when I am totally broke from buy presents for people. Not to mention time away from my wife and family during the holidays. But I'll be wearing the suit I spent four hundred bucks on at the Men's Wearhouse for the next 10 years, even if it's just to weddings and shit. It's an investment.

And seriously, stop whining about how you can't tie a necktie. If you're an adult, you really should know how. And if you're an adult and you don't know how, it's not tough to learn. You know what's harder than tying a necktie? Writing a dissertation.

If you've managed to overcome the disadvantages of your disadvantaged background to the extent that you're now completing your dissertation in philosophy and seeking academic employment, then surely you can find a way to tie a tie and look comfortable in a suit.

Anonymous said...

Ivy league students with upperclass or upper-middle class backgrounds can afford to fork over five or six thousand USD on a good suit.

I normally lurk, but you know, this is just a loony strawman for a couple reasons. One, there's a middle ground between needing to wear your battered jeans to the interview and Armani, and it's actually affordable. Think secondhand. Think eBay. Think buying an inexpensive suit and getting it tailored.

Second, it's a little crazy to think that the Ivy league grad students wear $6000 suits (the ones I've seen went the nice tweed + tie jacket route) to interviews (or that they're all from upper class backgrounds -- we're not talking undergrads, here), or that the average philosopher would recognize a label anyway.

As to the class problem, if I thought that having the money to buy a $6000 suit were really the issue, I'd agree. The rest of the class stuff is the real issue, though mitigated, perhaps, by 10+ years of post-high school education and the fact that philosophers are pretty much nerds.

As to Prinz's question, it seems not all that surprising, given that the rest of the interview is such an artificial process with practically no relationship to one's talent in the classroom, that the costuming choices should be strange, either. It's a piece of theater.

Anonymous said...

FWIW, I've been on a number of search committees over the years, and people who did not wear suits did not come of appreciably differently from those who did. If I remember correctly, half the people we've hired did not wear suits, nor have they ever been seen in one since. We were interested in what they had to say and not in how they dressed. I think the only fashion mistake you could make with us would be to present yourself in a way that made it hard to talk philosophy with you, and short of wearing something terribly un-PC or showing up hung over, I'm not sure what would qualify.

Of course, a lot of schools have very different cultures from ours. (And it's different in, say, Economics.) But I think the main thing to be said in favor of wearing a suit is that it is perceived as the norm, and hence you are unlikely to distract or offend anyone with your wardrobe. If they remember what you WORE, it probably wasn't a good interview.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why people find this topic so difficult. As a man, at least, things are so easy: wear a suit. The point in doing so is not that you should try to impress the search committee with your fashion credentials, it's simply a matter of convention -- and, for men at least, it makes things extremely easy. Plus, a suit is actually a very comfortable -- and not necessarily expensive -- piece of clothing. Should you buy one? Of course you should -- unless you expect to never attend a wedding, funeral, or other formal event in your life...

Praisegod Barebones said...

"The profession," as it's called, is inhospitable to women, minorities, and people from disadvantaged backgrounds. That much is obvious. However, it is not because you have to wear a suit and a necktie to your interviews. What is it caused by? I don't know. What will fix it? I don't know. But I do know this: letting people show up to their interviews in sweat pants or whatever will not fix it.


Fair point. OTOH I suspect that holding the APA at a more family friedly time might help.

(Will it fix the problem entirely. Of course not. Exit strawman)

crank said...

Much of what's been said sounds right to me, especially the point that no one REALLY cares what you wear as long as you are clean, groomed, and have gone to enough effort to show respect for the position for which you are applying. (I say this as someone who is on the other side of the suite these days.)

Just two more points to add, one of which is admittedly totally off topic.

1. I think it's fine to obsess over what to wear to interviews! Just recognize it for what it is: one of the few -- if totally irrelevant -- features of the job market that is 100% within your control, and a fun distraction.

2. The person who thinks suits cost $5000 also said the following, which seems to have slid under the radar: "Students from schools elsewhere, especially state schools, who are already going into massive debt to obtain their phds" I expect that I'll get shot now, but I'll say it anyway: NO ONE SHOULD BE GOING INTO MASSIVE DEBT TO GET A PHD. Minor debt for unexpected expenses, or a month or two without funding, sure. But massive debt? If you have to pay for your Ph.D., you should not be getting one. Period. I feel very strongly about this. If you cannot gain admission to a department that will give you a more-or-less livable stipend, you are very unlikely to get a tenure track job when you come out. Which is fine, if you love philosophy so much that you will be happy adjuncting at 4 different schools, and having no health insurance. If not, not.

I really think it's immoral to encourage undergrads to go to programs from which they will not get jobs. Programs that require the students to pay tuition are almost always in that camp. (Terminal MA programs are different, of course.)

the memory still burns said...

You should definitely wear a suit and tie if male. It is just a sign of respect. (I actually where a suit and tie when I teach. When I turned forty I felt uncomfortable dressing like my students, but that's just me.) However, you shouldn't wear that ill-fitting bar mitzvha suit (you know who you are). You don't need to drop six grand. But a new suit that fits well can be bought at a reasonable price. If you do go vintage because of poverty at least take it to a tailor. One important tip. By a shirt with the right collar size. The only reason ties are uncomfortable is because the shirt has the wrong collar size.

irritated at how bad a philosopher you are said...

I just have to comment on a remarkably bad post in the comments thread (paragraph by paragraph).

"This whole class argument is a load of shit! I grew up in a family where my father made $24,000 to support myself and my incredibly sick mother. I grew up in a relatively poor area of a good sized western city, and I had friends (when I was in high school and they had dropped out) that got shot because they were wearing the wrong clothes.

However, I learned how to tie a tie--as a matter of fact, i learned how this year so that i could be put together for the APA."

What exactly is your point? That not everyone from such backgrounds is prevented from learning how to tie ties, etc.? But no one ever doubted that. That was not at issue.

"And as for the cocktail atmosphere of the smoker, it is weird and unfamiliar to a lot of us with less advantaged backgrounds. but get the fuck over it."

Is this intended as an encouragement, or as a rebuttal of the argument that class matters? It is presented in context as being part of the reason one should find the class argument a load of bullshit, but surely the fact that (let's just grant) one _ought_ to get over something doesn't show that one isn't unfairly disadvantaged if s/he underperforms because s/he hasn't gotten over it.

"The class shit goes far deeper in academia than all of this. Just being in a place where lots of people are children of academics or children of people who went to good schools puts you at a severe disadvantage in making sense of what the fuck people are talking about a lot of the time. If you were so bothered by the fact that you were in an environment that disrespected your economic background you would have left academia long before you made it to the smoker."

This paragraph starts so well. But then it falls apart. By comparison: If Rosa Parks had really been bothered by racism, she would have stopped taking that bus long ago.

"There are a lot of ways of being disadvantaged in philosophy, but dressing respectably for the APA isn't one of them. You are absolutely fooling yourself if you think that you would have found a job in your disadvantaged background without having to dress differently."

Again, how is the second sentence relevant to the first? The point of the second sentence seems to be that if one had done something other than academia, one would be just as disadvantaged in terms of dress, etc. But is the idea that therefore one isn't in academia disadvantaged by dress? That just doesn't follow.

The whole post was a string of non sequitors.

A prof who interviwed people at APA said...

Don’t bring class wars into the job search…it won’t work.

As for dress, let’s face it you are in grad school, you should own a few ties and know how to tie them.

As for suits ; a 5 or 6 grand suit is ridiculous – you can buy a decent suit at a Men’s Warehouse or other similar store for 200 to 300 dollars ; make the investment and don’t whine and while you are at it but some good shoes to go with it.

First impressions are everything at APA; have a great CV but look like an amateur, hmmm that’s a strike against you.

Lastly, if you get hired – it’s in really poor taste to dress like your students, so no jeans – and don’t be surprised if your dept chair discretely chats with you one day about the unofficial dress code of the dept and the university.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only person unsurprised that those most concerned to police the fashion boundaries of the discipline are so slovenly when it comes to the written word?

Anonymous said...

I love the way Dave Chalmers dresses.

Anonymous said...

to prof who interviewed at the apa.

My guess is that you're at a shitty school. That's why you think it's in poor taste to dress in jeans. In general, in my experience, the worse the school, the more profs think it necessary to 'dress up'. It's similiar to how profs at shitty schools are much more likely to put 'PhD' after their name.

Anonymous said...

Don't listen to the moles from Men's Warehouse pushing their sad $300 suits. It's all part of their brilliant viral marketing strategy. Notice how when you leave here, their ads suddenly appear in your facebook profile. Insidious.