When the time comes for my students to make presentations in class, they often ask me, “do we have to dress up?” Here’s what I tell them: “You will be the focal point of everyone’s attention in that moment. You have something worthwhile to say, and you’ve asked for our consideration as you say it. You want your audience to respond positively to you. You also want to feel confident as people look at you and listen to you. So yes, you need to think about how you present yourself visually, how you physically enter this world. This might mean different things to different people. I’m not going to tell you what to wear, but I’m asking you to consider the things I’ve said. It’s a sign of respect for yourself and your audience if you make an effort to look nice, whatever that means to you.”
As many of you know, I’m about to start my first faculty job. In grad school, I wore nice tops and slacks on teaching days, but the rest of the time, I went for comfort, and as a result, I’ve amassed a wardrobe of soft, faded, fleecy things. As I prepare for my new position, I’m realizing that even my “nice” things are looking pretty shabby these days - and I don’t have very many of them.
I look around at my future colleagues, and I see a norm I’d call “dressy business casual.” Not quite “suit” level (although you do see suits occasionally, on both men and women), but the men wear ties, and the women wear dressy separates with nice jewelry and shoes.
I desperately want to make a good impression, so I’ve purchased a few new things. I can’t afford much right now, but I’m trying to heed the advice I’ve given my students. Now, we can argue about giving in to “the man” and complying with rules and all that, but the reality is, we live our lives in interaction with others, and we form judgments. I want my new coworkers’ judgments of me to be positive ones. The way I dress is within my control, so I’m going to do the best I can to look the part of “professor.”
Wish me luck!