style matters · writing

The Un-Outfit Project

It’s the end of week four, and I’ve not yet repeated an outfit on campus!

Off-campus, though? That’s a different story. Thanks to JoVE and to Lady English Professor for giving me the idea of writing about the things we wear when we work from home.* You know, what we wear on the writing days, the reading days, the grading days, the deadline-crunch days. Usually, we’re not wearing skirts and high heels and makeup. Often–and I mean no offense–we look terrible. This is cliché, even: while “elbow patches” is a very well-known professor aesthetic, “crazy slob writer” also has some popular cultural traction. Thus Michael Douglas in Wonderboys:

It’s funny because it’s true, am I right?

When I work from home, I have a very limited set of things I wear. My Magical Work Slob Un-Outfit comprises:

  • Pink Crocs with some princess stickers on them, courtesy my five-year-old
  • Fuzzy ‘white’ chenille slipper socks
  • Grey baggy Old Navy yoga pants OR pajama pants
  • T-shirt that I slept in the night before
  • Super-fuzzy Lululemon hoodie –OR– ancient grey wool cardigan –OR– overized superlong terry cloth bathrobe

It is important that my hair Not Bug Me, so I usually pin my bangs back somehow. It is also important not to wear makeup or contact lenses, so that I am able mash my face into my hands in despair, or have a nap, without making a big mess.

I kinda look like this:

(I guess there’s a reason for the stereotypes …)

I can happily spend entire teaching days all dressed up and feel stylish and comfy. I can go to lectures by visiting speakers, a bunch of meetings, and sit in my office prepping stuff for class and answering student emails. However, Real Thinky Work (research, writing) as well as Real Slog Work (grading marathons) for me necessarily entail wearing my Magical Work Slob Un-Outfit. I just can’t write anything more complex than an email in an Outfit Project outfit, because when I try, I feel helplessly and hopelessly constricted by garments with no spandex content, pants with fasteners, shirts with buttons, bras with underwire, shoes. I freak out. Even my hair bugs me and I start grabbing at paper clips to try to hold it back. Paper clips.

But maybe that’s just me. Maybe my discomfort is legitimately physical: who can really rewrite our shared understanding of the (im)materiality of digital culture when slumping forward toward the computer screen makes that weird second button on the fly of their dress pants dig into their belly button? Or maybe it’s psychological: I’ve said before that writing makes me literally itchy, no matter what I’m wearing, and writing is maybe just so very awful for me that I’m trying to externalize that discomfort somehow. Still. The Magical Slob Work Un-Outfit gets things done for me.

What about you? What do you wear to stay home and write? Why?

* And if you want to know what other people’s writing spaces look like, Lady English Professor has put together a slideshow of submitted photos from the Waterloo English Department faculty and graduate students, and they’re on the blog. (Mine’s the one with the cat and the gin.)

7 thoughts on “The Un-Outfit Project

  1. Ah! I love it! I tend to need to get out of the house to write, so I head in to my office at school or out to a coffee shop. Typically I wear jeans, shoes (as opposed to boots which can't be so discretely slipped off), a t-shirt and a cardigan. My hair is always up and I tend to avoid wearing rings or bracelets (they make annoying click-y sounds near the keyboard!) I also wear a big big Dr. Who big scarf which is useful for hiding my face while I think, or putting my head on when I feel a bit in despair!


  2. Since I don't have any “lady professor” days any more, I decided that it was okay to spend money on pyjamas. I've also expanded my collection of nice squooshy sweaters (see my Ravelry Project page: I'm JoVE)that even look nice if I wear them out in public.

    As one of my other work at home pals said, I must have a bra on to talk to clients, even if they can't see me because we're on the phone.

    And one of the big non-attractions of ever having a real job [tm] again is that people might expect me to wear uncomfortable clothes in the name of “professionalism”.


  3. I also can't write at home, so I either work at a coffee shop (if I'm working for a few hours) or a university library (if I'm spending the day). My outfit is almost identical to Erin's (with the frequent substitution of tights and a denim skirt for actual jeans), especially the scarf. Great for a post-lunch nap pillow (I work at a library with exceptionally comfy armchairs, and a ten-minute catnap is often what gets me through the afternoon), or a butt-pad if the chairs get hard, or a wrap if I get cold, which I often do. But getting up, showering, getting dressed, and getting out of the house seems to be what signals to my brain that it's Time.To.Work, and if I wore what Aimee does, my brain would think that it was Sunday.Morning.Lazy.Time, which is no good at all. Unsurprisingly, it does seem like the psychological impact of what we wear is more important than the physical items of clothing themselves.


  4. I love that picture! I also wish I could do work in PJs or other informal clothing. Not that I dress up. I am on the same page with Melissa, especially b/c I'm working from home. I can only do work-work/write with a certain degree of sartorial “formality” (jeans instead of PJs) that makes a distinction b/w just being at home (and doing chores, cooking, etc.) and being at work in the same physical space. Also, I like to delude myself that today might be the day when I will actually go work in a coffee shop, so I have to be ready ;-).


  5. I work at home/write at home (Post-Doc here), and for me, there is no other outfit than: yoga pants, cotton tank top, and Gumby t-shirt. I wear this ensemble pretty well every day at some point, so the elastic/spandex is pretty well shot, and Gumby has seen better days. But regular people clothes make me very itchy. And let's not even go near the underwire!


  6. I think maybe we'll need a post for café outfits! I sense a scarf theme. In fact, I'm in a café right now, in that nasty t-shirt and some jean shorts. No makeup, crazy hair. Of course, ran into People From Work That I Know, naturally.


  7. Oh! So that is what I have been doing wrong! I write from home (it's my lovely RA job) and I usually dress up in skirts and occasionally a tutu. I am not kidding. Make-up only goes on if I am expecting company though–you don't want to get mascara all over everything when a negative peer-review comes in (or, in my case, a manuscript is rejected and has to be revised for formatting errors and then resubmitted for the 4th time).


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