Tuesday, August 26, 2008

When does 'dressing the part' become simply 'dressing'?

Classes start next week which means I've started my annual August ritual: staring into my closet wondering, "What am I going to wear when I teach?" Before anyone thinks that this really should be the least of my worries right now, let me point out that I've been working at my computer for the last three weeks, pretty much straight, stressing about getting my classes put together, so taking a break to stare at my closet isn't me being shallow, it's me trying to avoid carpal tunnel and the need for bifocals!

Actually, I hadn't really started thinking about my wardrobe until I saw a post on Stepcase Lifehack about work and style that is part of their summer giveaway. Part of the reason it caught my attention is that this IS something I think about every year. I've always 'dressed up' to teach; of course, in academia, 'dressing up' could mean simply not wearing a tee-shirt and flip flops, but for me, it usually means wearing nice pants or maybe a skirt, shoes with at least a little bit of heel, and a tailored sweater or top. I'm a Banana Republic/Ann Taylor kind of girl anyway, so it's not like this is a big stretch, but given my druthers, I'd still rather wear jeans or capris.

However, by some point in the semester, 'nice pants' does usually mellow out to include my dark jeans (note to any guys who are confused reading this: dark jeans are still dressier than regular jeans), and I get a little less anal about what I wear. What I've realized is that each year, that point - the point where I decide it's OK for me to dress a little less nicely - gets earlier and earlier. And this year, I'm not really sure that I even care. That's not saying that I intend to go to class next week in shorts and a tank top. But the main reason I've always dressed up to teach is that I think it helps me to establish my position of 'authority'. That is, since I look younger than I am, I've always worried about students not taking me seriously as a professor, and dressing up is one way I can make it clear that I am not 'one of them'. But as I get older, I seem to be worrying less about that. Duh, you're thinking, that only makes sense, since as I get older, I must look older so there's less to worry about. But I think it's more that as I get older, I am more confident and more comfortable being a professor. I feel less need to 'dress the part' because it's no longer a 'part' I'm playing, it's simply who I am. The upshot is that what I wear isn't about looking older or more authoritative, it's about looking like the competent professional that I am. Who happens to wear a lot of Banana Republic...

Related posts:
When do you become middle-aged?
Managing social media and multiple personalities

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