On Campus

Why professors dress worse than you do

Would you believe it's because of peer pressure?

Today I went to work dressed as follows: blue dress shirt, blue tie, and jeans. I say again, jeans. And no jacket, mind you. But I was wearing that tie, and before I even got into the building — walking in from the car — a fellow faculty member said to me, “what are you all dressed up for?”

Later that same day, another faculty member stopped and knocked on my office door and asked what was with the tie. I almost took it off right then and there to avoid any more hassle.

I used to think one of the great things about being a professor was the personal freedom afforded at the workplace. I could go to school wearing whatever I wanted. But now I see that it’s not true. I can wear whatever I want, as long as I dress like a teenager. The former chair of my department used to have a special shirt he wore to departmental meetings. It was a t-shirt that said, “Who pissed in your Cornflakes?” I never heard anyone comment on that shirt, but my blue tie set me up for cross-examination.

I’m not sure why my fellow scholars are so put off by neckties. Maybe they think it smacks of corporate conformism– though if my brother the investment banker showed up at work wearing what I was wearing today, they would have sent him home. But to me the tie doesn’t say corporate; it merely says serious. And while I wouldn’t say everyone has to be serious all the time, in attire or thought, I do worry that such seriousness is discouraged in general at universities by the quiet shaming of inquiry. Besides, why is corporate conformism any worse than academic conformism? Maybe my tie makes me the real individual.

Or maybe somebody just pissed in my Cornflakes.