Why do academics dress so badly? (Answer: they are too happy)

I used to wear a suit and tie when I taught technical writing at my previous job. In part I was sending a message that technical writing is a profession, and in part I was playing dress-up to enjoy the first full-time job I’d ever held (at age 29, after 11 or so years doing various part-time jobs that fit around my schedule as a full-time college student).

For just about any academic event that doesn’t require a formal robe, a jacket and tie suffice. I have actually presented at an academic conference wearing a Star Trek uniform T-shirt — though that conference was called “Computers and Writing,” which attacks a high percentage of nerds.

Because a fashionable student once noted approvingly that I was wearing cargo pants, I own several pairs. When the occasion is formal, I pick black cargo pants, so the extra pockets aren’t that visible.

But nobody will notice my cargo pants when I’m wearing my fanny pack.


Imagine what your professor's closet looks like. Tweed. Acres of tweed.

Imagine what your professor’s closet looks like. Tweed. Acres of tweed.

A few years ago another colleague read out an invitation to an event where the dress code was “smart casual”. What would be the opposite, he asked? It struck us both at once: “scruffy formal”. And what would that describe? Easy. A male professor, not too far from retirement, going to a university function, wearing clothes that have aged even faster than their owner.

Here is how you dress for such an event. You go to your wardrobe and randomly pull out a garment called a “pair of trousers”, another called “a shirt”, another called “a jacket”, and another called “a tie”. Then you put them on. Then you look in the mirror to make sure that you have put each in roughly the right place. The end. –Jonathan Wolf, The Guardian.