The Professor’s Wardrobe Unlock’d

As term approaches, I become serious about getting ready for teaching. I tweak my syllabi (four for this fall plus another reading course I’m going to have to map out with my new graduate student). I make a last stab at getting as much research and writing done as possible. I set aside a day to catch up on all the filing. Last but not least, I tackle the weighty concerns of wardrobe.

I’m not a fashionista. Not in any way, shape or form! (My colleagues who might be reading this blog will be nodding in heartfelt agreement at that characterization.) No, my interest in my wardrobe comes from the simple concern of not being the figure of fun I occasionally encountered in high school and university. You know the situation: if this is Tuesday, Professor X must be wearing green. If this is Thursday, we see the grey suit! (And we all know that if this is seen as charmingly eccentric on the part of a male professor, it’s seen as profoundly weird and incompetent on the part of a female academic.)

To this end, I pay attention to my clothing so that I rotate and refresh the wardrobe in such a way as to not become utterly predictable. Or so I hope. Every teaching day, I keep note of what I wore so that I’m not too closely repeating the same outfit when I’m back in the same class. Having a dozen different jackets means never having to say “I’m boring!”

Summer means culling the wardrobe of clothes that needs must be retired. Farewell, beloved boiled wool jacket, wearing out at the elbows. Au revoir, jeans with a nascent rip at the knee. Auf wiedersehen, black and white printed skirt that I never should have bought in the first place!

Summer is also a time for clothing repair and maintenance. I need to take my favourite pair of black winter boots to a shoe repair kiosk in town and get the leaky seams repaired. (This is not so much because I am cheap as because the boots fit remarkably well and have a helpful non-skid sole that’s saved my bacon more than once in winter.) I have a button to replace on a jacket, another on a pair of pants.

Summer also means shopping for new clothes. Since May, I’ve scored five tees, one pair of sandals, a pair of khakis, two skirts, two pairs of yoga pants and a funky print jacket. I have not found the right pair of replacement jeans, yet. My favourite store for dress pants is turning up nothing that fits. I’ve failed utterly in my attempt to find comfortable navy dress shoes. (I may have to retire that lovely pair of navy dress pants for want of suitable footwear. This is galling.)

It certainly doesn’t take as much brainpower as it does to wrangle a syllabus or design a new assignment, but it’s one more bit of preparation I don’t dare neglect. I can’t be the only one. How do you handle the back-to-school wardrobe situation?

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “The Professor’s Wardrobe Unlock’d

  1. Although I hate shopping, I love clothes, so I keep hoping other people will answer this question. Since that’s not happening, I feel I should try, even though I think I don’t really have a “wardrobe situation.” I rarely get rid of anything, partly because my gym addiction means that things I’ve had for years still fit, partly because I get attached to items. For instance, I still have a floral print skirt I’ve had since grad school, even though it’s a little faded and a little limp and I have to wear it with the buttons set over because I have put on ten pounds since grad school (being happy makes me gain weight). I don’t wear it often, but when I do I still get compliments on it. I tried putting it in the give-away pile a few years ago, and then pulled it out again. I like both the style and the colors. If I could replace it with something very similar, I might be able to part with it. I very often buy only new versions of what I already have (black skirt, grey sweater), and hang onto the old things until I can replace them; and even then, I keep the old ones for around the house or gardening.

    I don’t have a “uniform” for teaching to the point where I worry about repeating outfits, though I do have certain go-to pieces and looks: the same long linen shirtdress in 3 colors, very similar long-sleeved button-front shirts in 5 colors, the same wool knee-length skirt with pockets in two colors, half a dozen wool cardigans in various colors. Whenever I can find machine-washable dresses of knee length or longer with pockets, I snap them up. One just arrived in the mail today, back-ordered since July. I had hoped to take it to England, because it’s perfect for travel (a dark print, sleeveless but shoulders fairly covered, can be dressed up or down) but it will also be good for early-fall teaching. It will definitely be on the packing list for next summer. Maybe I don’t need to replace things often because I have so much stuff that I don’t wear it out easily. Sometimes I wish I were more the sort of person that has a stripped-down wardrobe of a few perfect pieces, but really I come by this pack-the-closet mentality honestly: my mother believed in clothing-as-costume, loved color, kept everything (you might think I’d rebel against this, as I rebelled in so many other ways, but in this I follow her example). I always coveted a raspberry-red wool suit she had in high school, in the 1940s, but it never fit me, because I’m larger round the shoulders, ribcage and hips than she was. But if I ever find that suit in a vintage shop or at an estate sale in a size that fits me, I will be all over it.

    I think black shoes are fine with navy, though I understand the desire for a match.

  2. Ink

    I am always on the lookout for something to freshen up the old wardrobe, so there isn’t really a new season for clothes (though I always used to get a new pair of school shoes as a kid, and come fall, I start hankering for a new one, like a Pavlovian dog). LOVE to find new blazers (that’s where I focus my professional wardrobe energy, monstly) and have been known to haunt eBay for unique, artsy jackety things. Re: shoes, I only own black. They match everything, don’t they? If not, don’t tell me. I love them. Congrats on your additions–I like your whole system, btw.

  3. Ink

    “monstly” = mostly.

  4. jliedl

    Dame Eleanor and Ink, thanks for stopping by with the comments. I sympathize with feeling attachment to beloved items of clothing. I almost cried when I put the boiled wool jacket into the donation bin. I loved that jacket so much, but I’d worn it to the point of holey-ness. I gleefully cling to the Liberty of London black and red floral print skirt that I hand-sewed while on a research trip in grad school. I love to buy jackets, the more colourful, the better!, because they are a right pain to sew myself.

    I hadn’t thought about using black shoes with my navy pants but it certainly could work. The shades are pretty close and black does go with everything. I was just spoiled for so many years of having black, brown and navy dress shoes.

    I’m trying to barrel through these last bits of shopping and preparing so when term starts, I’ll have plenty of choices in what to wear. When the academic year’s underway, I almost never shop for myself. Unless it’s a wardrobe emergency, I probably won’t buy any clothing for myself until next May. So I’d better be ready now!

  5. My husband never worries about “back to school” clothes. He simply keeps wearing the same khakis, black shirts, and black shoes he’s worn for years.
    I sort of envy his “uniform” at times, although I like more variety. You’re so right that on a male professor, a uniform is endearing and eccentric, but on a woman, it’s a sign of how clueless she is. (Sigh…)

    I do tend to go through my closet and make sure the staples (black slacks, shirts, shoes) are in good shape, and I usually add a couple of jackets or tops each year. This year, since I’ve changed sizes after the baby, things don’t fit the same, but I don’t want to buy more things right now. That complicates things somewhat.

    • jliedl

      Oh, yes, it’s so tough on postpartum bodies! I remember returning to teaching after the girls were born: it was particularly tough to appear well dressed when things didn’t fit or got messy on the way out the door! I kept a decent emergency top in reserve at the U in my desk drawer, just in case I came to campus then discovered I hadn’t made it unscathed. I still have a pair of earrings in the top desk drawer to quickly dress up a too-casual outfit. The hopeless acts of a doomed-to-appear-frumpy academic!