good things · perpetual crush · self care · style matters · you're awesome

Jump in!


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(with huge thanks to Leigh and Michele for agreeing to let me write about our conversation)

Last week, I went to an amazing conference and I admit that one of the many, many highlights was a moment of sartorial sisterhood between one of my totally fabulous co-panelists, Leigh, and me. The panel was done and we stood up, looked at each other, and she said something like, “Nice jumpsuit.” I don’t really know exactly what she said because I had been so busy admiring her jumpsuit. We were in on the same not-so-secret secret: jumpsuits are awesome.

Hers was blue. Mine was black. Hers was more structured. Mine was a little more flowy. Hers didn’t have a belt. Mine did. But, really, it was the ways in which they were the same that mattered. The top was attached to the bottom. Somewhere (in a place usually apparent only to the wearer) there is a zipper. It’s never all that obvious how one gets into one of these things and that, I think, is just one of their many advantages.

More on the advantages in a sec. Let me first get right into what you – if you are not already a jumpsuit convert – are probably already thinking. What about when you need to go the bathroom? Isn’t it a huge bother?

I know. I thought that too. It was the main reason why I resisted for so long. But here’s the thing. It’s not a bad thing to be forced to think ahead a little about when you might need to go. I know you’ve been there. You’re in office hours and the students are lined up down the hall and all of a sudden you have to run to teach or go to a meeting, or you’re writing and you don’t want to stop, or you’re at a conference and listening to mind-blowing papers and you can’t imagine slipping out of the room and missing anything you think you’ll just wait till the break but then the break comes and you end up talking to people you really like and then it’s time for the plenary…  and you remember, too late, that you actually really needed two, three, four, heck maybe even five minutes for yourself somewhere in all of that rushing around. Leigh described actually hopping on one foot by the time she got home at the end of the day because what had been discomfort had verged into crisis. She tells me her husband says, Why do you do this to yourself?

How many days have you had where you were so busy that you didn’t have time to find a bathroom? Let’s not do this to ourselves.

Leigh put it perfectly when she told me that the jumpsuit has taught her a kind of self-care. It forces her to stop and check in with herself about some pretty basic needs. It forces her not to wait until discomfort becomes crisis. It forces her not to do this to herself.

Michele, another conference attendee, overheard this conversation and immediately pulled out her phone to show us a picture of a jumpsuit that her partner bought for her at the very same moment that she had liked it on insta. We paused to celebrate how all these jumpsuit-stars were aligning and Michele pointed out that she likes jumpsuits because they reminded her of a kind of futurism (think: astronauts, star trek). Okay, yes!

Here’s my vote for the jumpsuit as the uniform of feminist futurism. Jump on in. The future is fine.


clothes · style matters

Thirty Seven Things: Trying out a Capsule Wardrobe

Maybe it’s because our house is small, and we’re still trying to integrate the possessions of three households (my mother-in-law’s, whose house this was; my partner’s, who had his own place before we moved in; and mine, since I had my own place too). Maybe it’s because my working days are full and I’m feeling the need for a little more emptiness when I get home. Maybe it’s because we’re in the middle of a renovation and the contents of the room next door are crammed into the one I’m sitting in. Maybe it’s because having less means having less to take care of. Whatever the reason, I just need less, and I’m starting with my closet.

It now contains, including shoes and bags, 37 things.

I’ve written before about my search for an efficient and sustainable early morning practice (that phrase makes me think I’ve been reading too many Strategic Mandate Agreements) that will let me get out the door looking professional and presentable in the least amount of time. I finally figured out the hair thing–turns out I didn’t need to change my haircut, just accept the fact that my hair is actually (gasp) curly. Aimee has her go-to boots and her back-of-the-door blazer and her Serious Person Glasses (me too!). Erin has her Fluevogs and gorgeous big scarves. We all think about how we present ourselves in our classrooms and offices, and we’re all pretty fluent in the grammar of clothing so that we can make deliberate statements with how we dress. But I was thinking about it too much. Like the strategic deployment of my academic credentials, I know what to wear to make people take me seriously at work and to make me feel like myself. It’s always my uniform: a pencil skirt or sheath dress + blouse + cardigan + funky shoes. Imagine Joan from Mad Men in 2014, and you’re headed in the right direction. And yet getting dressed became a chore, an over-long deliberation and a Sisyphean struggle to keep my wardrobe (and, okay, sometimes floordrobe) from exceeding the confines of my exceedingly tiny closet. Being efficient in my morning prep has become extra important of late, since I’m now on an adjusted schedule at work so that I can write more in the morning, and I’m trying to cram in all the words I can before I have to leave for the office.

I didn’t realize how much this clothing conundrum was bugging me until I stumbled across Un-Fancy. (The capacity of the human mind to internalize habit and fail to see inefficiency never ceases to amaze me). Caroline’s style is nothing like mine (okay, we do have the same glasses), but her concept of a capsule wardrobe was so appealing. Every day she wears something different, but that something different is simply another combination of the 37 things she chooses, and then wears exclusively, for three months. I’ve long known that exceptional creativity often emerges in response to arbitrary restriction (I’m not a reader of the Oulipians for nothing), but here were those principles applied to a closet. I was immediately sold, and I packed up my extra clothes the same day. The fact that it took me all of 10 minutes to create an inventory of the 37 things I wanted to keep told me that this was just what I needed to do.

My closet now contains: 15 shirts and sweaters + 7 skirts and dresses + 2 pairs of jeans + 3 jackets and blazers + 7 pairs of shoes and boots + 3 bags. C’est tout.

It’s only been about a week, but I’m glorying in fewer choices. Getting dressed takes all of 3 minutes, because I can see all of my choices at one glance and pull what I’m going to wear from the back to the front before I go to bed. I’m wearing things I haven’t worn for ages and love, because I’d forgotten about them amidst a wealth of choice. I’m not staring down clothes that don’t fit well or that I don’t love, which is a depressing way to start the day. I’m being more creative in the ways that I combine the things I do have. I’m not wasting my finite daily decision-making capacity on which sweater to wear. Truly, this is only the illusion of a lack of choice. If every outfit I make has three elements (top + bottom + shoes), I’ve got the ingredients for something like 5000 unique outfits here. Oh, and the other benefit? It’s an easy way to limit the amount of shopping I need to do. I’ll wear these 37 things until the end of December. At that point, I’ll keep some of the things I’m wearing now, pull others out of storage, and perhaps buy a few things I’m missing or that need replacing. But then I’ll live with those 37 from January to March.

Now that I’ve got the closet under control, I’m moving on to the kitchen–it’s time to put a hiatus on grocery shopping for a little while and see what we can make out of a half bunch of spinach, some cornmeal, and an egg. I’m feeling inspired already.

What about you? How do you keep your closet under control and your mornings simple?

sexist fail · slow academy · style matters

Let’s talk about outfits, and power, and authority: a fashion post omnibus

Have you seen the piece by Katrina Gulliver, on how she doesn’t like students calling her by her first name? She’s funny and self-deprecating, writing like she’s internalized the critical voice that will indeed soon enough tell her to lighten up, already. Gulliver’s take on the first name issue is about how she has to work hard to get respect in the classroom. Intriguingly, she calls out her white male colleagues for trying to be cool and wearing really casual clothing and inviting students to call them by their first names. She says these guys might be deflating a tiny bit of their own authority, but demolish hers.

Will Miller wrote an incredibly smug response, that mocks Gulliver in taking the very structure of her opening to turn it back on her, disavowing her claims: “If what students call me determines whether I am respected or not, I’m not deserving to be in a classroom.” Miller, unsurprisingly, seems completely at ease in his own prose, without the faintest whiff of self-reflexivity jarring his lightly sarcastic and righteous tone.

Ugh. This is making me tired. This is a feminist blog and you know our politics so I’ll just lay it out: this is the epitome of clueless (in this case white, male) privilege. It’s snotty, and silencing, and smug, and denies Gulliver’s experience. Will Miller: stahhhhhhp.

I don’t want to argue this. I want to start a grounded conversation about the how’s and why’s of managing one’s authority in teaching. Erin wrote about the first name issue. I did, too, in a post about email. And we’ve had a post about the politics of eyewear. And one on how people treat me nicer when I look pretty than when I don’t. Melissa has written about haircuts and so have I. And boots! All of these produced great, useful discussions: what’s great is hearing about other people’s experiences and strategies even if and especially when they differ from my own. Read the comments: they’re thoughtful and engaging and awesome!

I want to talk about my clothing choices and ask you to share yours, if you’d like.

My current positionality is this: mid-career tenured academic, coming into an administrative post in July, 41 and mostly look it, white, cis-gendered, not visibly disabled, normative height / weight range, conventionally pretty. Privileged also in the sense that I’m pretty fluent in the rhetoric of clothing, and adept at constructing (and having access to the tools to construct) grammatically correct utterances in this language.

Me, I’m all about blazers lately. Nothing connotes immediate authority like a blazer. Mine all feature rolled up sleeves, so it’s more fashion-forward than banker-bland, but there’s something very comforting to me about the work jacket. I’ll wear it over a dress, or with a skirt, or dress pants. I can even wear my beloved black yoga jeans and the jacket makes it work appropriate. I have blazers (with suits and not) in: rust/black herringbone wool, grey wool, grey cotton, black wool, navy wool, chartreuse cotton, blue suede (yes!). Most were on sale, some were full price, two were from consignment shops, but they read “expensive” and “tasteful.” I often take it off to teach, but put it back on for meetings of all sorts. I keep one in my office, in case I happen to be without, and I need one.

Sometimes I’m in situations where I’m the only person under 45, and the only woman who’s not an adminstrative assistant to some older man. Sometimes I’m teaching 17 year old. Sometimes I’m on TV. Blazer on / blazer off, like glasses / contacts are choices I can make fairly easily that allow me to manipulate others’ perceptions of me, and thus, manage my interaction with them, in some small way. Bear in mind that I have dramatically two-toned hair, and that I wear fashion-forward nailpolish (today nine fingers are mint green and one is sunshine yellow). The blazer is part of the whole package.

How about you? Maybe you are like Steve Jobs and hate to think about clothes and have a functional uniform. Maybe you are junior and trying to stay fashionable and a very limited budget. Maybe you are a little older and thinking about appropriateness. Or something else. Please share!

balance · style matters · time crunch · transition · well-heeled (so to speak) · women

On the ‘Do

In her last post (Go read and comment! It will make your day), Aimee so nicely suggested that she’s hoping to learn more from me “about post-academic careers and what a new kind of life of the mind might look like.” We’ll get to that, but today’s post is anything but life-of-the-mind-y. Rather than writing about what’s in my head, I’m writing about what’s on it–my hair, in all of its shiny and political glory. Hair (at least mine) might be frizzled, but it ain’t just frivolous.

(If you like these style posts, check out all the ones tagged with style matters. And please ignore the fact that I’m shamelessly revisiting Aimee’s post on her feminist haircut).

My recent hair obsession started with three things: 1) being too busy to get a haircut for what seemed like an age and then fussing about with my overgrown mop, 2) starting the new job and trying to figure out how to juggle looking put together at work and fitting in time at the gym before my hour-long commute and my 8:30 start, and 3) seeing a woman on the bus with a beautiful short crop that looked SO stylish and SO easy. In the easy department she beat my rather high-maintenance bob, which requires endless blow drying and ironing every time I wash it, else I look like a electrocuted poodle.

I wasn’t kidding.

In the throes of hair obsession, I seriously considered following the suit of my short-haired muse and hacking the whole business off. If you’ll permit me a whine, expectations around women’s hair just seem so unfair, and so expressly calculated to channel our energies into the frivolous and the decorative instead of into the useful and the intellectual. And I want that half-hour of sleep back, dammit. Most men–at least prior to the advent of the man-bun–can just shower and be on their way, little-to-no fluffing required. (They also aren’t expected by society to put on makeup, or strap themselves into bras, or paint their nails, or jam their feet into high heels–all things which I know I’m not ACTUALLY required to spend my time doing, in any objective sense, but do anyway because I like to look nice and because painting ones’ nails is, not unlike making risotto, very relaxing.) But women in most parts of the world are conditioned to equate long hair with femininity and attractiveness, and thus grow luscious locks that require more babying than my rather neurotic cat. There are exceptions, of course, like those who decide that they just don’t give a damn, or those, like Halle Berry or my friend Belinda, who are made for short hair. And of course there are women who have long hair or high-maintenance hair for reasons other than style. But the coded (and not so coded) message many women get is that short hair is unfeminine, unflattering, unsexy, and only for those beautiful or dynamic enough to make up for their lost hair-related appeal in other ways. (I can’t imagine how terribly those messages must be compounded for women who have lost their hair for medical reasons, and thus are told that they’re doubly unattractive, being both sick and bald.)

Having absorbed this equation of hair = beauty (and being, let’s be honest, just a mite vain), I spend all kinds of time–valuable time, time I could be spending on intellectual pursuits, or with my family, or exercising, or SLEEPING, for goodness sakes–washing my hair, drying my hair, ironing my hair, working to pay for expensive haircuts, shopping for hair products. Think about how much time I could devote to concocting some brilliant money-making scheme, or practicing my French, or writing my dissertation, if I started refusing to style my hair, or cut it into a style that doesn’t require styling. A lot! It’s madness, I tell you! It’s hair tyranny! 

Sure, there are other ways to say screw you to the hair establishment than cutting it all off. The low-maintenance (and very popular) long-hair-always-in-a-bun style (or the every popular ponytail) is certainly one way, although it often comes at the cost of headaches from the weight of all that hair perched atop one’s head all day. (I’d go that route, but the migraines aren’t worth it.) And dry shampoo is a godsend, that’s for certain.  But wouldn’t it be lovely if we lived in a world where beauty and femininity weren’t tied to hair? Where short-haired women were just as unremarkable as short-haired men? Where those of us not in possession of Cate Blanchett’s cheekbones didn’t feel like we needed hair to hide, or accentuate, parts of our faces? Where long hair was a simple choice, and not, as it is for some people, a screen, or armour? Where I could get sweaty and shower and be on my way in the morning, no potions or hair irons required?

Sadly, we don’t. And I’m brave about some things, but apparently not about this. My high-maintenance hair is, somewhat to my dismay, a part of my personal and professional identity, and so it stays. I still resent the time I spend on my coif, time I could be spending in other ways, but clearly not enough to give Hannah-the-hairdresser free rein with the clippers. I’m keeping my poodle-free bob, which looks quite nice, I do concede. But I’m also figuring out other ways I can take back my time from the demands of appearances. Time to invest in some no-iron clothes, perhaps?

Makeup, jewelry, dress, heels, manicure, contacts, hair did–the whole shebang.

What about you? Is your ‘do a drag, a drain, a distraction from more important things? Or is your coif something you celebrate? Do you find the discussion of follicles frivolous, or fraught? Do tell!

day in the life · femimenace · style matters

Hey good lookin’!

One Wednesday, in January, despite my best efforts, I did not manage to shower. I wound up, at 4pm, at the local Fancy Pants Bar with some of my favorite colleagues, looking sort of like this:

Exhibit 1: Eye makeup never helped anyone write better.

And then I go to campus to pick up some books, looking like this:

Exhibit 2: Sabbatical sweater. Hood keeps the ideas from falling out.

 Let’s just call that first picture “January” and the second one “February.”

So I shouldn’t have been too surprised when, in March, when I was showered with praise by grad students and colleagues when I showed up somewhere looking more like this:

Exhibit 3: No, really, it’s still me!
Gosh! You look nice! Everyone said. I did look nice, comparitively, and it’s the comparisons that have got me thinking today. People, in general, treat me a lot nicer when I look like Exhibit 3 than Exhibits 1 and 2. A lot nicer. 
On campus, when I’m well dressed, people assume I’m a faculty member. Staff do not glance at me askance, but rather, expectantly. Professors I don’t know banter with me, or respond happily to my unprovoked friendliness. When I’m not so well dressed, people I know walk right past me, and look right through me. People I don’t know give me static: everything seems a little … bit … harder. They don’t smile at me as much, they seem a little suspicious. I wonder: is it because the no-makeup-all-hoodie look disguises my insitutional positioning? I am possibly an aged graduate student, or maybe a staff member who works so far back in a back office there is no dress code? Who am I? Or is it simply that I don’t look attractive?
Off campus, when I’m well dressed, I get free stuff. Really. Like a break on a taxi fare, a free pastry at the coffee shop. The bus stops pulling away from the stop, and lets me on. The clerks at the drug store are actively friendly. These things are not true when I’m in my ratty jeans with pouffy hair and pale lips. Maybe when I’m well dressed I look like I have money, or like I’m competent. Or maybe when I’m not well dressed I look like a middle-aged woman, and they’re not worth much attention or kindness.
But it’s striking, the difference. I can switch my ‘look’ (such as it is) from day to day, and the differences in my experience of the social world are profound and discomfiting.
On the one hand, it’s good, I guess, that I can smooth my own damn path in the world simply by brushing my hair and wearing pants with a zipper. On the other hand, that’s kind of offensive. I mean, I like to cute as much as the next professor, but it seems rude that people treat me less well when I’m in my Super Productive Magic Writing Outfit. Then again, it seems rude that people give me free stuff when I put on lipstick.
So. “Good looking” is a complicated thing, and how I look alters how the world and I interact, shifts my potential for action in the world. I can be ambivalent about it, but it’s true. I am ambivalent about it. And if I’m perfectly honest, I’m a little worried that the option to “dress for success” gets a little harder to access year by year, as I move from young woman to middle-aged woman. Maybe that will be freeing. I’m not sure. I’m looking for a day when I can wear my hoodie, and get my free donut, too.

balance · global academy · saving my sanity · style matters

On the Road Again: Packing like a Champ

Last week Aimée wrote about one of the wonderful perks that come along with the not so wonderful aspects of academic life. I too love traveling, and I tend to do most of my traveling for conferences these days. I have completely disregarded my the advice of readers who offered such fantastic insight into the question of how many conferences to attend in a year. As I write this I am sitting in the Air Canada terminal in Toronto. I’m pleasantly exhausted after one of those magical conferences that combined genuinely good papers with interesting conversation and new acquaintances. In the next few hours I’ll complete my lectures for tomorrow (two), finish this blog post, see my partner, prepare for the week (and maybe a strike), and then crash.

This is a cycle that in one way or another I am going to be repeating quite a bit as  I am traveling a LOT in the coming months. I’ve found that one of the things that makes traveling and working on the road more feasible is good packing. I used to be a terrible packer: four-pairs-of-shoes-and-a-party-dress-and-a-bookshelf-of-books for a three-day trip kind of terrible. I’m getting better. Here are some tips that are helping me enjoy the trip, get work done, and not feel too totally wrenched from the good routines in my life.

1. Plan your outfits
I never used to do this for traveling, I mean who knows if I was actually going to feel like wearing what I brought with me? The result of this thinking meant I brought everything with me including the wardrobe kryptonite item (as if I was going to figure out how to incorporate puce into my wardrobe while at a conference). These days I lay my outfits out on the bed beforehand. I make sure that they are remixable by taking an interchangeable colour palette, and I take a reasonable amount of shoes…usually.

2. Limit your books
I like working on airplanes and in hotel rooms, there is something about being out of my life and cut off from regular interactions that allows me to focus my mind. But let’s be honest, unless you’re off for a research retreat there is not need to take the whole bookshelf. My solution of late has been to scan documents into PDFs and load them on my laptop of my Kindle. I use my Kindle for taking the other texts I need, and I take a notebook. I only bring texts for work that has to be finished while I am away. I’m learning that the only thing I gain from loading my suitcase full of books is a heavy luggage charge.

3. Pack a lunch
Seriously! Airplane food is expensive and really unsatisfying. If you have any dietary nuances it is nigh on impossible to eat well in an airport. I have a cute little bento box that is made of plastic. It goes through the scanner in my carry on luggage easily, and let me tell you I feel awfully pleased with myself when I open it up to a sandwich, some almonds, and a diced mango. The effort is worth it, I promise. I also bring a water bottle with my and try to drink lots of water. I recently got a water bottle/thermos that has a detachable tea basket. It feels great (and decadent) to sip gorgeous tea on the plane.

4. Move! Get some air!

I am a regular yoga practitioner. It keeps me from feeling I am kinking at the hips because I have such a close relationship with my desk chair. I pack my yoga mat with me, and practice in the hotel room (ok, sometimes I take it and don’t practice, but at least it is there). I try to get out and get some air during the breaks between papers.

5. Steal some time
A trip is a trip. If you can, carve out some quality time for yourself. I have a really hard time doing this, granted, but it is worth it.

Happy trails, y’all!

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.)

new year new plan · style matters

The Outfit Project

I was looking for one of my purses in the back of my closet the other day, and to get to it, I had to dig through the pile of Clothes I Have Been Meaning To Iron. I’m embarrassed to say that pile has sat there for about a year. A year! And in that pile I discovered pants I had forgotten I ever owned. Nice pants! 

It’s not really that I have a surfeit of clothes, an obscene Paris Hilton style “dressing room” that’s a third bedroom turned into a closet with couches. I don’t. I have a converted linen closet in the upstairs hallway. It ain’t that big. It’s just that I tend to fall into a rut where I wear the same three things all the time.
This is an especially easy trap to fall into in the summer, especially this summer, so ungodly hot that I just picked the very smallest/thinnest/lightest thing to wear and gave up on makeup, accessories, hair dryers. Fashion is not forwarded by a months-long heatwave in which wearing bracelets makes your wrists unbearably sweaty. No.
But it’s temperate now. And the Ironing Pile has moved out of the closet and into (of course) the dining room.
It’s time. Time to start … the outfit project.
The outfit project works like this. Don’t wear the same outfit to work twice, for as long as you can manage it.
That’s “outfit” not “clothes”: obviously, there are some pants / skirts / boots / glasses I’m going to rewear, but it’s the way to combine them that has to be different. I’m not going to lie to you: I’m wearing my new dark wash straight-leg jeans (the mature woman’s skinny jean, I call it) very often, nearly all my non-teaching days. And I’ve got an adorable pair of grey Camper ankle boots in heavy rotation with said jeans. But it’s all different blouses and sweaters and t-shirts and cardigans and shells and necklaces and earrings. Different sunglasses, different purses.
For me, the mental energy I’m (minimally) expending just to not always wear the brown wool pants with the black turtleneck and the orange purse does not, actually feel like the One More Goddamn Thing That’s Gonna Push Me Over The Edge. It feels more like something totally different than worrying about remembering my key to the media cabinet or whether I should bring extra syllabi to class or what happened to the coursepack at the bookstore or whether I sent the right permission form to school with my daughter. It feels a little frivolous and selfish in a good way.
Besides, I was feeling bad that this whole chunk of my wardrobe sat untended and unnoticed on the floor of my closet for an entire year. And it gives me a little lift to feel like, at the minimum, I don’t look like a hobo.
Do you have a version of the outfit project? Would you do it? I’m kinda having fun with it, and it’s nice to focus on something other than My Giant Brain And All The Things It’s Not Quite Managing.
style matters

Guest Post: Dressing for a Conference

I know I’m wading into an area where much screen-ink has been spilt in academic/women/fashion blogs, but please indulge me.

I am a fairly new associate professor – I say this because presumably now that I have tenure I could show up in La Senza flannels if I chose, but more importantly, because I feel a certain mid-career obligation to dress for work, whether that means the classroom or a Senate meeting. I confess my personal style is more conservative than fashion-forward – I don’t have a lot of daring when it comes to dressing (e.g., I’m unlikely to mix and match patterns), and my professional persona tends toward the feminine (heels) and classic (tulip skirts). Plus, I’m the coordinator of a multidisciplinary program, and as a junior administrator I feel a degree of responsibility (and a tigress-like protectionism) toward my program to project a certain competence.

I guess all of this is my way of saying that it isn’t much of a surprise that I am — more often than I would like – appalled by what my colleagues choose to wear, particularly when representing themselves at conferences: the meetings of our professional associations.

I go to conferences a couple of times a year. I like this part of my job, a lot, and consider it a professional perk, rather than an obligation. Last summer I was at the first World Congress of Environmental History, held in Copenhagen. The women from the European organization looked polished and professional: low heels, scarves and shawls, suits of different shapes, enough flair to suggest that continental je ne sais quoi. The Canadian women? At a reception (!) one senior historian was wearing black jeans and white sneakers, another khakis and hiking boots. What, were you thinking the hors d’oeuvres would be served at the end of a ropes course? I’m sure the hiking boots didn’t erode the quality of her paper, but I felt embarrassed on behalf of the Canadian contingent. Really, we’re not right out of the bush; we have telephones in Canada and everything now.

I know it’s unfair: men can travel for three days with a laptop satchel carrying their extra shirt and a toothbrush, whereas I can’t go for three days with less than three pairs of shoes (dress heels, casual flats, and sneakers for a morning walk). And no doubt it’s perpetuating a stereotype to make a fuss; wouldn’t one expect a young woman to care about such things? But on the other hand, perhaps it’s less a gender thing than an age thing. At a conference I was at last week, the young male Ph.D. students looked casual but put-together: argyle sweaters, collared shirts, polished shoes. Well done. Their supervisors looked rumpled and – well, like stereotypical academics. (Incidentally, it’s the younger scholars – not yet protected by tenure, or even employment – who also tend to respect panel time limits.)

But I don’t want to be thought of as a stereotypical academic. (A good, ambitious, accomplished academic, yes.) Are we trying to suggest that we’re too smart to care? That we’re too enmeshed in our research to be burdened by worldly things? However superficial it may be, I unconsciously allot more respect to someone I meet who is dressed as though they respect the venue, the project, and the company. I wholeheartedly believe that what I do – teaching and research – is important, and so just as I dress for the classroom, to indicate respect for the environment, I will dress for a conference as well.

The funny thing is that it’s not hard, or even burdensome. A well-cut suit jacket, even a leather jacket, or a wrap. Tailored pants or a skirt (or for more than two days, both). A sheath dress if you’re lucky (?) enough to attend a conference somewhere warm (like Toronto in 2006, when Congress coincided with a wildcat TTC strike and humidex warnings). A pair of polished, office-appropriate shoes, whether heels or flats. A flash of colour or a signature piece of jewelry as an accent (at this conference last week a colleague wore azure jewelry against an orange jacket – lovely). An overcoat that signals office, not Mountain Co-op.

I shudder to see, among colleagues of either gender:

  • shapeless pieces, like big sweaters, or too-casual tops, like sweatshirts (yes, even the “classy” ones with half-zippered collars).
  • sports jackets that match neither the tie nor the shirt they’re worn with.
  • jeans. For God’s sake. Or men’s go-to favourite, khakis, that have lost all shape.
  • ornate dangly earrings that brush your shoulder – even if you’re “artsy.”
  • sandals, orthotics, or any shoes that could also be worn to the farmers’ market.
  • apart from truly classic shapes, like a sheath dress, anything that’s older than the youngest person in the room (and that could easily mean 1990).

So, please. Dress it up a notch. We’re professionals.

Claire Campbell
Dalhousie University

age · clothes · style matters

Looks good, looks "professor-y"

I waited in the doorway at the optician’s, waiting for my dear friend (a colleague) to catch up to me, to see my new glasses.

“Oh!” she said, “I like them!” She considered, and then added, approvingly, “They’re very professor-y, they make you look older.”

She was smiling, so I know it was a compliment, and when she popped into my office to say hello the next morning, noticed them again, and said, “I really like those on you!”

Later that morning, another dear friend and colleague took a good look at them: “They’re great,” she said, “very nerdy.”

Older. Professor-y. Nerdy. You know, that’s what I thought of them, too. (Except maybe the older part. I’m 37; I am no longer really trying to look any older than I am, thankyouverymuch.) Anyhow, it’s not too much to say I picked a pair of glasses that made me look more like a professor.

I know very few academics who have perfect vision. Most of us wear glasses. And many of us make some kind of statement with those glasses. I wear contacts as well as glasses, so when I wear my glasses on any given day, it’s a choice: maybe I’m too lazy to do the full eye makeup thing that unadorned eyes require, or maybe my eyes feel too tired for them, but usually when I wear my glasses to work, it’s because I’m trying to up the ‘professor’ quotient on my self-presentation.

For example, on the first day of class, I used to wear my glasses, so students would know I’m a Serious, Qualified Person. However, increasingly I find that I walk and talk and dress like a serious, qualified person (erect bearing and controlled movements, speech in paragraphs with complicated clauses, wool pants and architecturally clever sweaters) and that I might need to tone it down a bit. I mean, the other day, I was out for coffee in jeans and a sweatshirt, and struck up a conversation with a new mom next to me–she ultimately asked me if I was an English professor, because I used the word ‘ambulatory’. The Force is strong in me, I guess. Anyways. Now I wear contacts on the first day to look less like an ancient and alienating grammar robot.

But you’re damn right I wear the glasses when half the class turns in their assignment late and I’m going to Address the Issue in class. And I wear my glasses to proctor exams. I often wear them when I’m on a hiring committee, because lately I’m always the junior person and we’ve been interviewing senior candidates and sometimes they ignore me.

I guess where I’m going with this is that I wear my glasses to look and feel more powerful in the world; I take them off when I want to hide or diminish my power. I don’t mind that they make me look older or more serious–I mean, in general, I now wear my glasses a lot more frequently than I wear my contacts–and this surprises me, because the prevailing cultural narrative (you might be familiar with this) is that women are supposed to always try to look younger and … softer? I guess ‘sexually approachable’ is what I mean. But 90% of the time, I’m more likely to be deliberately keying my self-presentation to a scale of authority rather than a mass-mediated attractiveness. Unlike the ‘sexy librarian’ who reveals her inner hotness by dropping the bun and tearing off the glasses, I actually really think I’m really my best, most attractive self in the wool pants and the glasses.

What about you? Do you count yourself among the legion of book-addled myopics? How do you choose to correct your vision? Do you deploy your glasses or contacts as props in the performance of self?