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What Not To Wear February 15, 2008

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Culture, Dwight Furrow's Posts, Teaching.
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Should anyone want to listen in on academics discussing fashion, here it is.

From the comments: “The same lack of style which marks one as a force to be reckoned with inside academia gets taken as evidence of mental deficiency outside.”

Students should be aware of the finely-honed sense of sartorial signalling we professors deploy each morning.

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1. Melinda Campbell - February 26, 2008

Putting the Shoe on the Other Foot: A Shabby Pedagogue’s Reply

It is interesting that people are talking about “fashion in academia” (or more properly, the lack thereof); I was just thinking to myself the other day as I walked across campus, “Who ARE all these people?” They are, almost to a person, dressed in nearly identical, no doubt carefully chosen, slovenly, mismatched outfits consisting of distressed and faded denim pants, a T-shirt/sweatshirt with a “scary” or “cool” logo or an intentionally discolored, off-kilter silkscreen image of some ‘icon of the past” like Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, or Sponge Bob, and usually some kind of hat or cap (popular styles ranging from broad-billed truckers’ hats to military-style Mao caps), often worn back-to-front or sideways, clearly revealing the wearer’s otherwise sadly overlooked sense of irony.

Rather than a teacher trudging through the hallowed halls of a college campus, I began to feel as though I was in a land of indigent vagabonds who had to wear rudimentary, government-issue workers’ garments that had been half-heartedly individualized with a lazy paintbrush or wash of dye. In general, most students look sloppy yet uncomfortable in their outfits; very few look well dressed or even sensibly dressed. And then, of course, there are those who stand out because of their adherence to a set of very specialized fashion rules (and these are by and large guys who want to demonstrate their participation in some sort of male-bonding activity such as athletics or hanging out and talking about athletics). Typical outfit includes (1) baseball cap; (2) overlarge, overlong T-shirt + overlong, overlarge athletic tank (this combo must be long enough to cover the boxer shorts or underwear exposed by wearing the pants so low that the waist is belted around the top of the thighs); (3) overlarge, overlong, VERY wide-leg shorts (these are, ideally, so large, so wide, so drapey, that they fall more like a skirt than pants—in women’s garb they would be called “culottes” or “gaucho” pants); (4) huge, boat-like, clown-size tennis shoes with faux laces, topped with tight white knee socks; (5) cell phone clasped tightly to oversize-rhinestone-studded ear. It is outside my imaginative powers to connive a sensibility that would, upon taking the last glimpse in the mirror before emerging upon the world in such self-display, give a thumbs-up nod of approval to this look.

Lest I seem to be placing myself on a plateau above or beyond such fashion faux-pas, I willingly confess to my own victimization (with its attendant addiction to shopping); idolizing the style of both Hepburns, Katherine and Audrey, as a child and aping skinny mods like Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton as a teen, and still pretending I can aspire to the avant-garde elegance of Gisele Bündchen and Kate Moss, I continually struggle and fumble at dressing with style. What females find most frustrating about fashion, perhaps, is knowing where to “draw the line”: hemline and neckline, that is. And not to single out the men above, we can also point to a discernible group of girls delineated by a common thread of stylistic choices: (1) Styled, product-laden hair, dyed a vampish shade of black, brown, or auburn, or else highlighted with yellow-blonde streaks or bleached platinum; (2) camera-ready make-up, including penciled or tattooed brows, eyeliner and shadow, lots of mascara, and foundation, blush, and shiny or sparkly lip gloss; (3) earrings—definitely earrings—usually large hoops or colorful bangles and, just to show a bit of class, large, goggle-size sunglasses festooned with gold monograms and grommets; (4) an outfit suitable for: clubbing, working out, lying on the couch, or doing basic chores (in other words, face says “I’m all dressed up,” body says, “I’m ready to relax”).

As I scan the landscape for some fashion relief—someone wearing a suit, tie or no tie, or even a coordinated top and bottom, a skirt and sweater for heaven’s sake!—those who come to the rescue are, of course, members of the faculty or administrative staff, oases in a blue desert of dutifully worn denim, worn-out velour warm-ups, and funky caps and T’s that echo a futile attempt at self-expression. Yes, as always, we can look to our dependable teachers in order to learn how to do things correctly.


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