The Campus Visit

I’m just back from a whirlwind two-day campus interview.

There is much anxiety around the campus visit, and rightfully so, as this two-day period can determine the next phase of one’s academic life. After polishing (and over-analyzing) the job talk and teaching lesson plan, what else is there to focus on but wardrobe? In all seriousness, the advice I’ve received over the years from trusted mentors adds up to: Be yourself, but be sure your work is what people remember most about you. For me, that has translated into more conservative clothing choices for campus visits than I would usually wear for teaching/advising. I’m comfortable with that. I see it as a conscious decision to let my work take center stage and let my quirky wardrobe be a pleasant surprise once I’ve gotten the job. This decision to veer toward more conservative clothing choices during interviews doesn’t preclude wearing a personal/sentimental piece. For example, I was given a brooch very similar to the one below as a gift some time ago, and have worn it during several interviews (and have always been glad to have something to remind me of my life outside the intensity of current moment):

brooch

During last week’s campus visit, this is what I wore:

Day 1:

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Blazer:H&M                                                                                                                                                                                             Sweater: Anne Taylor LOFT
Shirt: Bought at Marshalls (Similar style here)
Pants: Banana Republic
Hair worn naturally curly, but loosely pulled back (outside of interviewing, would most often wear hair out)

Day 2:

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Blazer:H&M                                                                                                                                                                                            Sweater: Gap Maternity (left over from pregnancy several years prior, but works because it’s quite stretchy/good for layering)
Skirt: Banana Republic
Shirt: Old Navy
Boots: Clarks (bought through Piperlime.com). I *strongly* recommend bringing a pair of flat or low-heeled boots if they’re appropriate for the weather, as even minimal heels/pumps can–and will–be incredibly painful after 10+ hours of speaking, meeting, eating, and generally impressing your hosts.

In both photos, I’m wearing minimal makeup. When teaching/working, I often wear no makeup, but for interviews, I feel more confident with foundation, eyeliner, and a colored lip gloss.

Also, I’m never without my beloved Henry Tomkins leather satchel, which has a very ‘lived-in’ look at this point and always gets lots of compliments:

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How do you decide to present yourself during interviews? Do you fully express your personal style or hold back a bit until you receive the offer?

-S.A.

Guest Post: Haute Couture In The ‘Ivory Tower’

This is guest post by Dr. Tanisha C. Ford. It originally appeared on the website Racialicious: http://www.racialicious.com/2012/08/08/haute-couture-in-the-ivory-tower/

A New York Times Magazine spread titled “Class Acts,” featuring six professors styled in designer fashions, recently resurfaced in the social media sphere largely due to the media’s budding interest in fashion in unexpected workplaces. Initially, I was thrilled to see the NYT acknowledge that we professors could be stylish, too. But, as I removed my rose-colored Burberry glasses to examine the slide show again, I saw that there were no professors that looked like me. No professors of color.

I instantly took to my Twitter and Facebook pages to post the “Class Acts” spread for my diverse group of colleagues to weigh in on. Their responses ranged from a sarcastic “… apparently black professors can’t be fashionable” to an admonishing “A truly pathetically pale slide show … shame on you NYTimes.” I felt vindicated that they shared my concerns that faculty of color were not represented. We began comprising our own list of “fierce and fly” faculty of color, including (but certainly not limited to)  Mimi Thi Nguyen, Darlene Clark Hine, Davarian Baldwin, Amrita Chakrabarti Myers, Siobhan Carter-David, Treva Lindsey, and Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar.

But even after our insightful social-media venting session, I was still bothered by the spread. And it wasn’t simply because “we” weren’t included. It was because the spread ignored the battles related to dress and adornment that African Americans have endured, both inside and outside of the academy. A brief look at major moments in Black history reveals how battles over race, class, and adornment have majorly influenced mainstream American fashion trends.

From slavery to the present, African Americans and other people of color have used fashion as a form of cultural-political resistance and creative self-expression. The “Class Acts” photo shoot–with its Dries Van Noten dresses and its Brooks Brothers suits–erases this long history. Under the system of slavery, whites dictated how people of African descent dressed, purchasing inexpensive fabrics such as denim and osnaburg in dull colors for them to wear. To develop their own identity outside of that as laborers, bond women often sewed their own clothes to wear to church—garments of more brilliant colors made from materials they purchased with their own earnings.

After emancipation, some former bondwomen and men began wearing flamboyant outfits full of color as a means of resistance. Though many black Americans adhered to styles that reflected the mores of whites in an effort to assimilate into white society, they created their own dress aesthetic by using non-traditional fabrics and unusual cuts to embellish their looks. Over time, their innovative modifications morphed into dramatic fashions like the zoot suit (with its long suit jacket and tightly tapered pants), which came to symbolize youth rebellion, jazz culture, and black and Latino urban life in the interwar period. These styles were then appropriated by mainstream American and European fashion designers.

During the Civil Rights Movement, a politics of adornment was employed to garner media attention for the movement. Images of black activists dressed in their “Sunday best” attire (dresses, cardigans, pearls, and suits and ties) being attacked by white segregationists highlighted the barbaric nature of American racism and the system of Jim Crow. Wearing such fine clothes was a subversive act, in the U.S. South especially. Dressing nicer than working-class whites placed African Americans in danger of being beaten, arrested, or lynched because their clothing was an outward sign of their challenge to southern social order.

By the late 1960s, young African Americans had ditched the Sunday best look and the integrationist politics for a more radical, African-inspired “soul style.” Organizations such as the Black Panther Party and countless black youth in cities across the country donned Afros, dashikis, miniskirts, and ornate jewelry to showcase their cultural pride and their political solidarity. Black women in particular used the soul style look to challenge conventional notions of feminine propriety, which mandated that they wear their hair straightened and dress in conservative clothing. The mainstream fashion industry responded—as it had in the early twentieth century—by appropriating this politically-influenced soul style, selling the look everywhere from department stores to haute couture fashion boutiques.

Clothing still remains an important political tool in the struggle for social justice in communities of color. After Trayvon Martin—an unarmed black Florida teen dressed in a hoodie–was viciously murdered by George Zimmerman, people of various races, classes, nationalities, and genders began wearing hoodies in solidarity, organizing “Million Hood” Marches across the globe to call for justice for Trayvon.

The NYT editors ignored this narrative of American fashion that is entrenched in histories of racial oppression and brutality. Instead, the fashions selected serve as a sartorial shorthand for a politics of adornment within the “ivory tower,” which bolsters notions of white privilege and high-class refinement. Not only is this a dated image of the academy, it is one that effaces the reality that, everyday, faculty of color use fashion (along with their teaching, research, and social justice activism) to challenge discrimination and prejudice within the academy and beyond.

The spread presumes that when a professor walks into a classroom she is a blank slate, a model to be adorned in fine clothing and given an identity. The reality is that scholars of color, women, and other groups whose bodies are read as non-normative have never been able to check their race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation at the door. As soon as we walk onto campus, our bodies are read in a certain (often troubling) manner by our students, our colleagues, and school administrators. Our professionalism and our intellectual competence are largely judged by how we style ourselves. Therefore, we are highly aware of how we adorn our bodies. And, like our foremothers and forefathers who innovated with American “street fashions,” we, too, use our fashion sense to define ourselves, our professionalism, and our research and teaching agendas on our own terms. As a result, we are actively dismantling the so-called Ivory Tower.

Portrait of the author, taken in Ft. Wayne, Ind. Photo: Kimisha Ellis. Courtesy of the author.

So my disappointment was not just about the fact that “we” as professors of color were left out of the spread because the larger issue at stake is not simply about professors. It’s about the seemingly innocuous ways that popular culture is used to obscure and omit important histories related to communities of color.

What the “Class Act” spread has done, however, is illustrate that the struggles over race, gender, and dress within the academy and those waged everyday in neighborhoods across the country intersect. We need to have some serious conversations about how fashion and adornment politics have been and continue to be a critical part of the black struggle for social justice. Not having these conversations means ignoring histories of human rights struggles in this country.

Dr. Tanisha C. Ford is an award-winning writer, intellectual, and activist designing her own brand of “Haute Couture Intellectualism.” She is currently writing a book, “Liberated Threads: Black Women and the Politics of Adornment.” She is an Assistant Professor of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Follow her on Twitter@SoulistaPhd.

On Being True to Yourself

I recently attended the American Anthropological Association (AAA) meetings in Chicago. As is often the case with big disciplinary conferences, it was a thrilling, disorienting, often overwhelming experience. Of all the many panels and meetings, however, the session that both excited and terrified was the one featuring the remarkable Karen Kelsky of The Professor is In (if you are in any way involved in academia–or considering that path–and are not familiar with Karen’s truthful telling of her journey from department chair to former-academic, please visit her blog. Now. I will wait because it is that important). What was most incredible to me about Karen’s presentation was the confidence she exuded. More than simply self-confidence, she beamed with a kind of certainty that the professional decisions she had made were best for her as a whole person. As she told her story of leaving academia and becoming an entrepreneur, starting with an ultimately-unsuccessful paper business that grew out of her decades-long love of origami, Karen didn’t express regret at leaving the security of the ivory tower. Instead, she radiated joy that she had found the strength to be honest about what brought her peace–and the bravery to transform a beloved hobby into a career. That leap of faith resulted in Karen’s current and necessary business, The Professor is In, through which she counsels graduate students through the hazards of the academic job market.

This post isn’t a sponsored ad for Karen Kelsky’s services–nor is it expressly about academic fashion.* However, I had to share this story because Beyond Tweed was born during that panel. Listening to Karen and her fellow panelists share the decisions they’d made and professional risks they’d taken in the name of personal fulfillment, I realized that the things that bring me joy (things like insisting on the significance of personal style in the academy) are not distractions to be dismissed, but rather opportunities for connection, remuneration…and perhaps even pleasure.

Thanks Karen.

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*For those interested in a great take on anthropological fashion at the AAA’s, click over to this post at Savage Minds.

 

-S.A.

Holiday gift guide

As the holidays–and campus interviews–are fast approaching, it’s the perfect time to post about some campus-ready gifts:

Hacking jacket:

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This one is from Banana Republic, but if your style veers toward equestrian, this style is great. The grey color here makes this a great option for winter/fall with a brighter sweater underneath

Coatigan:

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This coat/cardigan combination from Boden is great over slacks. It comes in blue and black also, which are better choices to dial down the “Mary Poppins” effect of the (beautiful) full skirt.

Velvet Blazer:

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A velvet blazer. For warmth and a surprising pop of winter style, a velvet blazer in an unexpected color (purple, green, orange) is great. This J. Crew version does a good job veering away from the 90’s crushed velvet look. For added caution, pair with a classic cut pair of trousers in a neutral color.

Boots:

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Returning to the equestrian theme. These riding boots (Ralph Lauren) are lovely, and will rack up compliments. The price tag, however, ($1000) is not for the faint of heart. Cole Haan does a great version for significantly less–and these boots are high quality for years, so a less expensive option is a second-hand pair via Ebay.

Laptop case:

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Every academic knows how vital their laptop is to their personal well-being. Since getting this encyclopedia-style laptop case ($100 from Twelve South), I’ve rested significantly easier in the knowledge that my beloved laptop (and manuscript drafts!) won’t be stolen. Looks great, too.

Happy grading and happy gifting!
S.A.

 

Welcome to Beyond Tweed

Welcome to an online space that combines a love for scholarship and personal style. This blog explores–with photo evidence!–what it looks like and means to be a professor thoughtfully and creatively engaging with clothing in a university setting.

The host of this blog, Some Anthropologist (S.A.), as well as the most frequent contributors are junior faculty members in humanities/social science departments in the United States.