proper attire

Karen Allendoerfer ravena at
Thu Aug 13 01:13:56 EST 1998

In article <cjfuller-1108980731240001 at>,
C. J. Fuller <cjfuller at> wrote:
>In article <35CFC578.5C7E at>, bjag at wrote:
>>We've talked a bit in the past about the frequency with which women
>>faculty members are mistaken for secretaries, technicians, research
>>assistants, students, . . .

>>So, what do people consider appropriate clothing for female faculty
>>member in the following activities?
>>1) interviewing for a junior faculty position

I wore something that could be considered suit-like.  It was a two-day
interview, the day I gave my talk I wore a skirt with a sweater jacket.
The other day, I wore pants and a jacket-like top.  I wore earrings and
a very small amount of makeup.  

>>2) teaching classes

I've only been a TA, and for that situation I dressed pretty much like
my students.  I usually wore pants (or shorts, if it was summer-y--this
was California) and a top that was not a T-shirt.  

I personally don't much care for the graduate student uniform of jeans,
T-shirt, and battered athletic shoes, but that's personal taste.  I've seen
both male and female graduate students live, do lab work, and teach in
this uniform.  

I'm reminded though of my first-ever TA'ing experience.  There were 3 of
us.  I was new and clueless.  One of my co-TA's was a more senior graduate
student in my program, but it wasn't obvious from looking at her or
listening to her.  She wore the jeans and T-shirts uniform, but on top
of that she did her hair in a most unusual way:  a small braid down the
back and the rest in large, painstakingly-curling-ironed curls on the top
of her head.  She also had the misfortune to have a very high, giggly
voice and the kind of big, round handwriting that looks like it is going
to have the i's dotted with little hearts and smiley-faces.  Some of the
undergraduates were pretty mean in their evaluation forms:  "airhead" was
one of the kinder epithets.

>>3) interviewing for a post-doc

This is a situation where I think being overdressed can work against you.
People in the lab will think you're a dork if you show up in a suit.  But
in all honesty, I've only seen this dynamic in action for men who showed
up in suits and ties.  Women seem to have more latitude--wearing a nice
dress doesn't bring on the same reaction.

>>4) working in the lab

I used to only wear stuff that I didn't care if I spilled cresyl violet
on.  Then I realized that I'd never get to wear anything nice, if I 
followed that dictum.  No silk suits or anything, but I wear anything
from shorts to dresses.  I wear a lab coat more often than many of my
peers do.  The one thing I am very grateful for about
the lab culture is that women scientists, for the most part, wear
sensible shoes.  If that would ever change, and we had to start wearing
sneakers to work with the stiletto monstrosities in a plastic bag under the
arm, for changing into once we got there, the way the lawyers and business-
types do, I'd be pissed.
>>5) attending a meeting

Here I dress up for a presentation as if it were an interview.  Otherwise
it's comfortable pants and flat shoes.  

What I've noticed with respect to the dress styles of successful female
faculty members could be generalized by the following:

1.  They weren't /aren't "too" feminine.  Not that anyone would mistake
them for a man, but they don't wear tight leather mini-skirts, the
aforementioned stiletto monstrosities, blue eye shadow, purple nail
polish, or thousands of clanking silver bracelets.  They also tend to
wear pants most of the time, rather than skirts (I notice when I personally
buck this trend, because I'm rather fond of skirts, myself).

2.  They don't wear jeans, T-shirts, shorts, or athletic shoes, either.

3.  Earrings, for some reason, seem to be more okay than other types
of jewelry.  Maybe because they don't get in the way when you're trying
to do an experiment the way rings and bracelets do.

I'm about to start an industry job, and I honestly don't know what it's
like there.  My immediate boss (the VP of research) wears a suit and tie,
as does the CEO.  The people at my level ("Scientist")  seem to be
wearing variants on the postdoc or grad student uniform:  pants, jeans,
polo shirts, loafers, docksiders.  

Although it got a little old in college, the "preppy" look may have
some advantages, in not being too formal, or too informal.


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