Monday, October 4, 2010

Work Wear

I've been quite preoccupied lately with what I wear to work.  As a very young college professor, I have lately felt that I need to reassert my position through my clothing.  At the start of the semester, I was perfectly content to wear dressy jeans, a fun top (never anything low though - I have always been pretty conservative with how I dress), and flats.  Last semester, when I taught at a satellite campus, I wore jeans quite often, mainly because I had a small class, I never saw any other instructors (literally - not once!), and I didn't really feel comfortable in "professional" dress pants and tops.  I am slightly more casual in my teaching style, meaning that I (obviously) value education and believe that it is important to inform and help guide my students, but I also think that students should be interested and actively engaged in what we are doing.  I never want to simply stand before them and lecture.  I want them to remember that they are active participants in their own education, and just because I stand before them as the professor doesn't mean I am the absolute authority on everything English.  I want to encourage them to make their own opinions and feel in charge of their thoughts, ideas, and words.  Dressing a little more casually, I believe, reflects this same attitude.  But this attitude conflicts with how I feel I "should" dress.

At the start of this semester, I wore the same types of things as last year, rotating my dressier jeans with khakis and cropped black and grey dress pants.  For shirts, I wore polos, button ups, and the occassional tee shirt-cardigan combo.  I also rotated through my collection of long, flowy skirts (quite teacherly, but not necesarily professorial). 

But my style has been evolving a lot this past month.  I am getting quite tired of the "are you even old enough to teach here?" "which professor are you waiting for?" and "you barely look old enough to be a freshman!" comments.  (One professor even laughed when I replied, "I'm a professor," and said, "Oh, that's a good one."  That wasn't as bad as the super-rude professor who yelled at me for using the copying machine reserved for faculty.  He stormed away in a huff after I explained that I was faculty.)

 My first change?  Heels.  I've started wearing heels nearly every day these past few weeks.  For some reason, the added 3-4 inches make me feel somehow more professional (but oh, my poor feet).  I invested in two nice pairs of dress pants and a pencil skirt during a great sale at Express (coupled with coupons and my friend's credit card discount, they were less than $25 each!).  I've added 5 more J. Crew outlet button up shirts to my collection (I adore button up shirts - I would wear them daily if I could) and I broke down and bought 2 new cardigans.  I'm not a 'fashionable' person and I have no dreams of being one (and I'm also not a wealthy woman - I can't afford to be fashionable!), but I do feel like I can dress for an office job in my new professional attire.  I've felt professional, tall, and fairly uncomfortable, but I haven't had any rude age comments in the past two weeks.

Even so, today, after a weekend of grading 120 or so essays, weighted down by a head cold, and uninspired by the rainy weather, I slipped into my favorite jeans, a polka dot button down, and my peep-toe flats and went to work (I only briefly considered wearing my polka dot rain boots. Ah, how nice those would have been on my walk from the back of the parking lot to work).  Of course, as these things go, I ran into the director of my department, my boss at my other job, and 3 other 'high up' professors (seriously, this never happens), but even still, I didn't really mind.  As much as I believe it is important to dress 'academically,' I also have started to understand that I truly could care less if someone else is going to judge me because I look young.  I got the job, so obviously how young I looked/look/and am didn't matter.  Would I say that to the next person who makes a comment about my age?  Nope.  But I sure would like to :)

So heels or no heels, dress pants or jeans, I'm still a competent, interesting, and (in most instances) fully knowledgeable professor.  Do our clothes define us?  Not whatsoever.  Do they influence how others may judge (and in return) treat us?  Unfortunately, I think so.  So I'm going to do the whole "dress like a professor" thing most of the time, at least for now, but I'm definitely still keeping the "casual Friday" jeans in my usual rotation.  I'm thinking tomorrow might just be another jeans day.

My friend Liz inspired this post and, oddly, a comment I made inspired the post that inspired this one.  Read what she says about it here.

One a totally non-clothing related note, my vegan week is going well (although this cold has me pretty down in the dumps and not interested in any food - vegan or not).  Today I had - you guessed it - oatmeal for breakfast.  I'm not sure if I've ever said much about this, but I'm kind of a really, really boring eater.  I am perfectly happy eating the same thing for breakfast and for lunch every day.  It is probably due to how I grew up.  Each day for breakfast, I'd have a bowl of cereal.  For lunch, I'd take a PB&J sandwhich on wheat, a sliced red apple with the skin, and a chocolate and vanilla pudding cup (then I'd buy a lowfat chocolate milk for a quarter).  Every. Single. Day.  This was first grade through eigth grade.  In high school, I quit taking lunch and wouldn't eat until I got home (how terribly unhealthy! ugh.).  I'm just perfectly happy eating the same things each day.  Variety is not the spice of life for me (you know, this actually does relate to my clothing post.  Interesting).  J is the opposite.  When I go on a taco kick and make tacos three nights in a row, he rebels and gets take out.  My dad is a lot like me.  Whenever he'd find a new recipe he liked, he'd make it over and over.  I remember we ate a variety of strombolis for dinner for a week one fall until my mom finally declared the next six months stromboli-free. 

But that's enough about my odd eating habits.  For lunch today, I just had an apple, and for dinner I had tortilla chips, a few slices of tofu, and some spagetti.  Not exactly the diet of champions, is it?  But vegan week hasn't been as difficult as I expected.  J got himself Mexican tonight complete with chili con queso, which would have been tempting had I not felt so cruddy.  My biggest temptations have been cheese sticks (well, cheese of any sort) and Quorn vegetarian chicken patties.  But I can certainly make it until Friday without them.  Hey, that should be around when I get my MacBook back too!  I can't wait.  This little computer has been such a pain.  I made a Powerpoint last night for my class today and then couldn't get it to save (I think it is because I'm using a demo version of Microsoft Office).  Ugh.  I'm glad I at least have a computer to use though. 

Well, enough babbling for tonight (sorry for the rambling!).  I hope to have a mani to show you soon.  If you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen that I have been wearing an awesome CND Shellac mani for the past ELEVEN days now - no chips!!  I'll take some pedi pictures tomorrow too (just a pedi I did, nothing special).  I hope everyone is having a nice Monday :)  Thanks so much for dropping by!!


Unknown said...

Fascinating story, I love reading posts like this! And if you ever want to teach at a university where none of the professors dress up, I highly recommend the U of Colorado at Boulder! Most of my profs wore shorts in the middle of winter. with birkenstocks. hm.

Unknown said...

Fascinating story, I love reading posts like this! And if you ever want to teach at a university where none of the professors dress up, I highly recommend the U of Colorado at Boulder! Most of my profs wore shorts in the middle of winter. with birkenstocks. hm.

Lucy said...

It sounds so stingy but I hate spending money on work clothes - I know you spend like 40 hours a week there but "professional" clothes just don't do it for me. I'd rather buy fun stuff with my hardearned!

Kira said...

I love reading your day to day non-makeup based stories. So do you have a phd? I only have a bachelors, but one day would love to have a Phd. First I have to decide what I want to do in life.

Right now I am working in sleep science and working my way up the scientist chain while doing a post graduate certificate. I am also applying for other bachelor degrees next year just in case it is not what I am after.

I eventually want a masters and Phd, but my health really screwed around my bachelors and an unhelpful university so my GPA needs a little help :) I think being a professor might be an interesting gig.

Scholar Style Guide said...

Why does this always result in a confrontation at the copy machine?! I had a similar experience a few times with the instructional assistants when I was teaching high school. One of them also used to ask me for my "pass" every time I'd walk around the halls during my lunch. She finally stopped when I lashed back with "Do you want ME to write one for MYSELF?"

The response that worked best for me when people would question my age was, "I'm old enough to be qualified for this job." I felt like it was more polite than the question they had phrased, but still stern enough to indicate that I thought their question was rude.

I think you're right, though, that at the end of the day your clothing matters less to your students than to anyone else, because the students begin to see you first and the clothes second, while it's the opposite for everyone else.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the issue!


Skulda said...

Personally I am a terrible dresser for professional situations. I always feel so out of place and uncomfortable in "dressy" outfits. I keep it fairly casual at my job in nice jeans and dress pants with a few different colour shirts with cardigans. >.< Honestly I'd rather dress like a hippie all day.

Anonymous said...

At my university, artsy is the way to go. Many women go the roller hair, jewel tone polyester suit route with easy pumps. Not me at all! Other route is artsy, organic, fun. Try boots & crinkly fabric! Teaching in heels, yikes!

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