Monday, April 28, 2008

Academic Appearances

My recent trip to Big Conference gave me a lot to think about in terms of how academics present themselves. Apparently Girl Scholar has been having similar thoughts.

The Adventures of Notorious Ph.D., Girl Scholar: Keeping up appearances
"Really, though, my question is: when did academia become a glamour profession? It seems to me that there was a time when professors were expected to be a bit dumpy. Sure, there was That One Professor that everyone had a crush on, but that was exceptional.
One of the funn(i)est things about Big Conference is guessing what people specialize in by their dress and personal appearance. I guess what fascinates me is whether or not it's a good idea to imitate the dress of important scholars you admire. I'm sure that if you are the student of an important scholar s/he would be flattered to find that you take after them in terms of dress. I'm going to give you some of the obvious categories for my discipline, which I think I will call "head studies" in contrast to my earlier attempts in the field of "hairdressing." Please don't think I'm making fun, my observations about people's appearance do not lesson my impression of them as scholars. I'm just insecure about my place in academia and my identity, so I make these observations:

Old School, Old Boy: This is an older gentleman in a full suit with tie (sometimes a bow tie.) Grey haired and confident, he and his cohort chat while relaxing in the lounge areas of the conference. In "head studies" this person is always a white male.

The Techie: This is our version of the geek. Khakis and a blue shirt, glasses. A neat, short haircut. Also invariably a man, although younger.

The Outdoorsperson: S/he is unconcerned about appearances. Clothing tends towards jeans or khakis and flannel shirts, all slightly ill-fitting. This person doesn't get haircuts frequently. Her or his hair is long and looks slightly unkempt. Beards are common for men. You can also tell this type by their skin. They tend to have slightly leathery or freckled skin from spending a lot of time outside.

The Rock Star (male): This guy is smart and he knows it. He has lots of hair gel, tight black pants, sunglasses and a leather jacket.

The Rock Star (female): She could be old or young, but she always has a short, spiky haircut, usually covered in gel. Like the male Rock Star, she tends towards fashionable, tailored clothing. She generally wears close fitting pants, black boots, a tailored jacket (often red) and an elegantly tied scarf.

I know there are more types, but those are the ones that stand out in my mind. Each of these types is associated with a particular sub-discipline, but I won't go into that.


Anonymous said...

you can totally tell specialties in my field. biblical scholars in dowdy suits and ties and maybe some elbow patches. ethnographers in vaguely or maybe not so vaguely ethnic dress--pashmina scarves, saris, chunky jewelry. complit types in deliberately hipster retro clothing: tight black pants on men or on women, fishnets with platforms and invariably in glasses with black frames, square or horn rimmed.

I've had the same thought, actually. I still expect to see more dowdy dumpy people and there are inevitably a zillion and one younger scholars who look like they raided an overpriced vintage consignment store.

k8 said...

That's great and soooo true.

Brigindo said...

In what field is "Old School, Old Boy" NOT a white male?

Jennie said...

the outdoors person is usually wearing some kind of sport sandal.