Saturday, February 9, 2008

Five Passengers Set Sail that Day, For a Three Hour Tour, A Three Hour Tour

I know it's not exactly the season for this sort of issue anymore, but this piece by a law prof in Inside Higher Ed's got me thinking again about how academics dress. I'm actually one for profs dressing reasonably well to teach, and that obviously goes for candidates in interview and job-talk situations too. But something was really rubbing me the wrong way about this clown's finger-wagging defense of wearing tie and creased pants to teach. Part of it was the patent vacuity of his "arguments". ("The tie is important because it’s always been important; its importance makes it important." Got that?) I mean, I think the author thinks this is funny. Tough to say, though.

But the real problem was, the guy's got no actual fashion sense. He pretty plainly hasn't passed his eyes over the cover of a GQ while waiting in the grocery store check-out line since at least 1978. Get a load of this: "For men, Fussell’s default rule works: “You can’t go wrong with the classic navy blue blazer and khakis”." A "classic" navy blazer and khakis? Seriously? This is supposed to be advice for academics? But that's Mr. Howell, asshat, not the Professor.

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

It is hard to tell whether the *whole* thing is supposed to be funny, or whether the author is indeed and asshat (and ass-tie). It has never bugged me a bit as a student or as a prof to see distinguished profs (male and female) in jeans.

fedora man said...

The most persuasive arguments for sartorial standards in the academy have to do with pedagogical authority: allegedly your students won't take you seriously or respect your authority as teacher if you dress a certain way or fail to dress some other way.

Personally, I say to each his/her own. I happen to prefer wearing a coat, tie, and dress slacks that are color-coordinated along GQ-acceptable standards. I occasionally don a vest or sweater for a three-piece look and always a nice accessory like a tie clasp or pocket-square.

(Somewhere awhile back a poster named 'fashionista' identified me in a related post about fashion at the APA. She called me 'fedora man' and made fun of me. Trust me - I have no doubt she was talking about me.)

Surely we can agree that HYGIENE, as opposed to fashion sense, is another story. Some academics are just notoriously GROSS - awful B.O., green teeth, stains all over their clothes - and there's just no excuse for that.

Anonymous said...

I like the closing line--"Teaching is a thongless task." I'll crack to that...

Anonymous said...

GQ? Are you fucking kidding me?

Anonymous said...

You need to read GQ more closely; it turns out "asshat" might just be cutting edge. Check out p. 94 of the January GQ, which announces that "a blazer can (gasp!) be cool," and "brass buttons--once thought of as stuffy--have recently gained cachet." Then go to p. 106 of the February Esquire, and check out the double-breasted Valentino number (along with khakis) on Andy Samberg (and it isn't a joke--he is the model for their "Spring Style Preview").

Anonymous said...

To depart briefly from the sartorial direction of the article but to keep with the Gilligan's Island theme, I was once told that each of the castaways represents one of the Seven Deadly Sins. It works initially: Mr. Howell is greed, Mrs. Howell is vanity, Ginger is lust, Maryanne is envy, the Skipper is gluttony, and Gilligan is sloth -- if sloth can be extended to include being a doofuss. The theory falls apart because anger has to be assigned to Skipper (he often loses his cool with "little buddy"), giving him two. But that leaves The Professor without sin. Which is how it should be.

Anonymous said...

I’ve always thought that professors dressing however they please adds to their charm and even their status, especially when the professor in question is dressed strangely, dorkily, or shabbily. Maybe you have to look a certain way to be respected in other fields, but even an outside, casual observer at a philosophy conference can tell that’s often not the case with our thing. When you become a prof, you get to say, “I’m way beyond having to dress in any particular way.”

Also, has anyone ever noticed that in some photos of Wittgenstein he appears to have a writing instrument of some sort tied to his jacket lapel (with a rubber band, a twist tie, a piece of string?), via a hole in the lapel?

old guy said...

sweird--
when i first watched gilligan's island as a boy (of five? six?), i always thought the professor was sort of dweebish and dorky. four decades later, it occurs to me that he might have been a pretty good-looking guy.
(partly just a priori: hollywood always starts with pretty people and then hangs signifiers off them to represent 'unattractive').

any confirmation from the distaff or otherwise guy-attracted readers?

whoever the guy was, we never heard of him again, of course--he suffered the fate that everyone on g.i. did, either getting type-cast in that role or never having any career after.

oh, and about clothes? i just wear jeans and a collared shirt, sneakers, sometimes a pile vest if it's cold. yeah, clean is important--gotta keep your hygiene up, esp. as you get to be an older guy. young guys can sometimes get away with stubble and disheveled; middle-aged and over, never.

Anonymous said...

"But the real problem was, the guy's got no actual fashion sense. He pretty plainly hasn't passed his eyes over the cover of a GQ while waiting in the grocery store check-out line since at least 1978. Get a load of this: "For men, Fussell’s default rule works: “You can’t go wrong with the classic navy blue blazer and khakis”." "

What's wrong with Fussell's default rule. It's pretty hard to get major points for fashion get up that way, but if you really are worried about "going wrong" the Khakis/Blazer combo may still be pretty safe. I've heard of candidates criticized for being too sloppy, I've heard of them criticized for dressing up in a full suite and tie, and I've heard of them criticized for being too fashion forward, but I've never heard of one criticized for wearing that sort of bland ensemble. It may not show much fashion sense, but typically won't get the "that's not appropriate for an academic job interview" response that anything more extreme can get. It's like painting your apartment off white, it's not going to impress anyone, but if you just don't want to alienate anyone, it's a pretty safe rout.

Anonymous said...

I feel like dressing like a slob is my perogative, and indeed my badge of honor, as an analytic philosopher.

Substance vs..., and all that.

truth said...

Did anyone expect the responses to the article to be any different than they are? We want to be slobs.

borg-philosopher-king said...

To 7:16 --

Funny, that's the same argument Trekkies and other dorks give in dressing the way they do. Do whatever you need to do to make yourself feel better.

Resistance is futile.

Anonymous said...

Dress like a slob all you want, cupcake. Just make sure you wash that B.O. once in awhile, okay? Maybe take a shower once in awhile or brush your fucking teeth? How about a Tic Tac? Does that comport with your valorization of "substance" over "style"?

Anyone with a brain is going to realize that there is NO connection whatsoever between being brainy and dressing like a slob and smelling like a fucking cage of monkeys. The only person who ever pulled that off successfullly was Diogenes, and if he were alive today he would throw feces at most of us... (not because we're aping his looks but because we're not doing philosophy at all on his view...)

Anonymous said...

7:16 here:

There's dressing like a slob, and there's smelling like a slob. I subscribe to the former but not the latter, though only because I'm not sufficiently strong-willed so as to act on my principle opposition to hygiene.

Anonymous said...

...well, and then there's SPEP, where everyone seems to be competing in either the "my glasses are funkier" competition, the "my haircut is spikeiest" competition, or the "my black suit is chicest" competition.

-- funky-speckled, spiky-haired, chic-black-suit-wearing continental philosopher.

Anonymous said...

Completely off topic, and perhaps going to bring on anxiety-induced wrath from others, but I was reading the list on Leiter's blog of new hires (only two posts so far, but thought I'd check) and two graduates of Leeds were hired by Leeds. To be fair, each had held an appointment elsewhere in the meanwhile, but I still thought that sort of thing wasn't really done anymore. Is the situation different in the UK?

Anonymous said...

Every time I've seen Dean Zimmerman at a conference, he's wearing jeans and a shirt emblazoned with a band's name. And I respect the hell out of him, for reasons having nothing to do with his clothes (which I also don't mind at all).

Note: The professor was in a movie, This Island Earth, which was the movie ridiculed during the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Movie. Amazing.

Anonymous said...

anon. 11:19,

I was wondering the same about the Leeds thing. I wonder whether those were genuinely competitive positions (for the other people who gave job talks).

Anonymous said...

Regarding Leeds:

I was one of the finalists for the two year postdoc at Leeds a couple of years ago, and I didn't get anything but good impressions from the department. Certainly if they favoured inside candidates, there was no evidence of that. In fact, there were five or six of us on campus and although at least two of the candidates were known personally to people at Leeds (through connections at St. Andrews), the job went to a very deserving Princeton grad.

Moreover, my job talk was very well attended, with excellent questions, and it was evident that at least a couple of people involved in the hiring process had read my work closely, which is more than I can say about APA interviews! They also went to the trouble of flying two people from North America, which is unlikely if they had an inside candidate in mind.

The Leeds program is really impressive -- quite underrated, I think -- with lots of very smart young people. Probably they had compelling academic reasons to hire the people they did.

Anonymous said...

We need some distinctions. Here are some categories, with examples of people how fall under them in brackets:

(a) Stylish disheveled. (Tim Crane)
(b) I have my very own look and I’ll stick to it. (David Chalmers, Jesse Prinz)
(c) I sleep in my clothes and make a point of never tucking in my shirt. (Hartry Field)
(d) I don’t care about how I look. (Timothy Williamson)
(e) I put a lot of thought and effort into looking as if I don’t care about how I look.
(f) I try looking good, but I don’t know how to go about it. (Andy Egan)

People who fall under category (a) or (b) are not slobs. In fact, they tend to be the most stylish people in the profession.
People who fall under categories (c) or (d) are not necessarily slobs either, though they often are.
People who fall under categories (e) or (f) need help.

Do people out there seriously read GQ?

Anonymous said...

Has anyone given a moment's thought to how WOMEN philosophers dress? Or maybe some of them are included in the spiky hair/chic black suit group. Anyway, I recommend Karen Hanson's article "Dressing Down Dressing Up: The Philosophic Fear of Fashion." About how philosophers since Socrates have held themselves (ourselves) to be 'above' bodily things and hence can dress however we want. The dislike of clothes/fashion is linked to dislike/disrespect/hatred for/discomfort with the body. Take that all you slobs. Also, for some people who teach at urban commuter schools, the students almost all work and are required to dress neatly for their jobs. Professor slobs are a sign of thinking they/we are more upper-class, with a leisurely life style, etc., and I think that's an offensive stance to take--as if "OU poor kids have to dress and go to work but I can hang out in my office or the coffeeshop all day and just think away the hours on my dazzling next article..."

Anonymous said...

No, we don't read GQ, we read Vogue. Women do philosophy too! :P

It's hard to be confident in looking good (let alone fashionable) when people assume style comes at the price of substance.

Anonymous said...

(1) Without naming names, how do women fit into your categories?

(2) Without starting a discussion on this, Andy Egan looks good.

(Furthermore, I don't think this is the proper forum to diss specific people's appearance! That kind of thing can actually be quite hurtful to some people)

P.G.O.A.T. said...

Anon. 9:57 --

We have given a moment's thought, and even more than that, to how women dress. See my post, and people's comments, here. I'm sure we'll end up talking about it again.

Also, I want to look at that Hanson thing. Can you post a reference for it? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

As a woman philosopher - I'm now forgetting where I read this discussion recently (it may have been the SWiP list serve) but the common consensus seemed to be that most women already try to look professional as a way of gaining some authority with the students. (This of course doesn't rule out instances of (f) from 7:25's set of distinctions).

Personally, I had a (female) student come up to me after the first class I ever taught and ask "how, exactly [was I] qualified to teach this class?" To be fair, I *was* very young (24 - I was adjuncting), and I'm sure that problem will fade (to some extent) with time, but for the moment, I always wear dress slacks or a professional-looking skirt when teaching.

Anonymous said...

Second the claim that Egan looks good.

Women philosophers often seem to be doing a better job than men philosophers on the fashion front, but they're not immune to error. For instance I've seen some younger women philosophers try to dress sexy to teach which is all kinds of wrong. (I expect some of the men try to dress sexy too but it doesn't get inappropriate as quickly as with women.)

Anonymous said...

p.g.o.a.t., the hanson article is available in blackwell's "aesthetics: the big questions" anthology edited by carolyn korsmeyer.

fedora man said...

I referred to "GQ" in a figurative rather than a literal sense - i.e., a stand-in for established cultural conventions regarding "professional" male dress. Again, I don't think GQ (figuratively or literally) has any objective authority as an arbiter of taste - I said, and I say again, "to each his/her own." But there are certain standards regarding, for example, color coordination which are captured by the reference to GQ and which I, for one, choose to observe. For example, conventional sartorial wisdom suggests that wearing white socks with black shoes is a no-no and I happen to agree. It just looks bad. The same goes for wearing wrinkled and/or linty and/or stained clothing regardless of style. I personally feel that it's unprofessional - maybe even disrespectful to one's colleagues and students - to be unkempt.

The hygiene question scarcely needs to be raised. Irrespective of style, being dirty and smelly is just plain rude. Being dirty and smelly on purpose or on the basis of some kind of philosophical principle is pretentious and ridiculous. There is nothing wrong with opting for a casual or even slightly disheveled look, but there is a LOT wrong with not taking care of oneself. It's bad for you, your colleagues, and your students. There's a big difference between urging everyone to adopt a uniform STYLE (which I reject) and urging everyone to observe basic, socially-accepted standards of hygiene. I (and I suspect others) have pressed this point because a lot of philosophers (and academics more generally) tend to be dirty and smelly and gross, and this is scarcely to anyone's credit.

As a general rule, I think that if one is going to opt for a more "dressed up" style that one should try to do it well. I mean, if you're going to go to the trouble of wearing a coat and tie, you should at least avoid mixing plaids. That's just my opinion.

Another thing: all stereotypes aside, the tweed jacket is a classic look that is easily pulled off! A nice tweed jacket can be a costly investment, but those suckers LAST and will match easily with all kinds of shirts and trousers.

P.G.O.A.T. said...

Anon. 9:57, Thanks!

want2bAndyEganFan said...

could someone at least post a photo of Andy Egan for those of us who have never had the pleasure....

Pseudonymous Grad Student said...

Um, maybe instead of pictures of people, a fan of Andy Egan's sartorial style could give us a glowing description?

gotcha said...

Women philosophers often seem to be doing a better job than men philosophers on the fashion front...

SEXIST! See previous threads on how horrible a person you are for even thinking this.

Anonymous said...

My apologies for post anon 7:25. It meant to be funny, but I realize now that it was offensive. I'm a big fan of AE. BTW, no reference to women since most women in philosophy either dress inconspicuously or have a great sense of fashion.

the hef said...

Good call, 4:29. Funny how no one dares comments on "sexist" posts when they work out *in favor* of women, etc.

And I take it that your comment was more sarcastic than serious: The post in question is not really sexist, but some people are quick to label things as such...but only if it's to their advantage.

Leeds lecturer said...

Apologies for thread jacking, but I thought it might be worth someone from Leeds responding to the question raised above about our hires.

We are absolutely *not* into the game of giving our own PhDs an advantage when it comes to our jobs. If you look at our staff list, we have a large department, and there're not many Leeds PhDs among them. (In fact, although I haven't double-checked, I think these two we've just hired are the only permanent academic staff with Leeds PhDs.) These two jobs were absolutely competitive and open to everyone - it just so happened that the two best candidates for them were people that got their PhDs at Leeds.

Bear in mind as well that we made four hires, and the other two went to non-Leeds PhDs. Bear in mind also that the two jobs that went to Leeds PhDs were in the division of HPS (history & phil of science). There aren't many HPS departments in the world (9 I think), so you're appointing from a smaller pool. So it's not really surprising that at least sometimes you're going to appoint people who in the past trained with you.

We have made a lot of appointments recently (we've made 12 appointments in the last 3 years!), and only these HPS appointments have gone to Leeds PhDs, so please don't be put off applying for future Leeds' jobs!

Anonymous said...

Today in my department:

- One woman in tight black jeans, white tank top, and surf sandals (she is in her 50s).

- One man in jeans, black trainers (the sporty kind, not Converse), and a denim shirt. The shirt was a different color from his jeans, not that it would have been a better ensemble had it matched.

- One man (who is a dean!) in surf sandals, shorts, and a polar fleece jumper.

- One woman in high waisted 90s mum jeans, a fleecy jumper with 'energy sport' or similar logo.

- A major male professor walking around in a floral shirt, and cords with the fly undone!

Fashionisti they are not. I am off to google Andy Egan. Is he really that good looking? I think we need a post about the hottest philosophers!