Friday, September 14, 2007

Ms. Mentor on Fashion for Academics

An oxymoron? Absolutely hilarious column from the online Chronicle of Higher Education, Ms. Mentor is the pen name for Emily Toth in the English department of Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge, somebody with a tart, dry sense of humor. Also good advice in a sly package. Hooray! Here's a snippet:

[T]here are ways to dress in academe, just as there are ways to comport oneself, and every choice does send a message.(snip) People are always observing one another, making judgments, and groaning or chortling.

Certainly there is a public image of fashion for academics. For men it is the tweed jacket with elbow patches -- a style that Ms. Mentor has not seen for several generations, but the memory lingers. For women it is the frumpy Marian the Librarian look -- thoroughly unlike Julia Roberts's professorial character in Mona Lisa Smile and even less like the Amazonian Shannon Tweed, the women's-studies professor in one of Ms. Mentor's all-time favorite movies, the thoroughly underrated Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death. (Ms. Mentor has never met another living soul who's seen it.)

Odd ducks are often treasured as "crazy, but I love her" types, and they may be gossiped about with affection -- but they're much less apt to get the scarce goodies.

From a conventional point of view -- and academics are conventional people -- a student with a standout appearance will not seem to represent her university well. Earie's not apt to be trotted out to meet dignified visiting scholars, donors, or pooh-bahs in her field. She'll miss those invaluable moments for networking, for meeting and sniffing about with the big cheeses.

Also missing out: students who display too much notable cleavage, or who wear short, overly tight, or very casual-at-the-beach clothes. If your undergraduates are not looking at your face, or if randy graduate students or visiting poets are trying to brush against you, you are communicating a message that is not, well, intellectual. (snip)

But we are not all artsy geniuses whose charisma is so extraordinary that the world will little note nor long remember that we look funny. Most of us are A-minuses.

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