My friend paying me this compliment led to a discussion about our fashion choices as women in philosophy. My friend and I, both women, both feminist philosophers, both now tenured professors, admit to purposefully neglecting personal style while in grad school and during the prove-yourself-pre-tenure phases of our careers. Lots of black. Plain clothes. Nothing too flashy or feminine. But I recall being pretty damn funky and fashion free as an undergraduate and I miss those days (for many reasons, of course). Tenure is freeing me up a bit, and thankfully not only in terms of dress code! But how limited are fashion choices in the academy? And how gendered are those limits?
Tim Gunn bemoans the academy’s “frump and circumstance” and seems to think fashion is an issue for virtually all academics regardless of gender. Some women in philosophy admit to dressing towards a stereotypically masculine ideal in order to be taken seriously as philosophers (i.e., as opposed to choosing such style as a free expression of their fashion sense).This recent post at Inside Higher Ed (thanks, b!) suggests that professional women shouldn’t dress down to the casual norm. When we do, we do so at our own peril. There is also the wonderful Hypatia article by Karen Hanson on philosophy’s contempt for fashion in which she maintains that philosophers’ disdain for fashion comes from fears and insecurities about change, the transient, the ephemeral. She thinks feminist philosophy can help traditional philosophy overcome these fears and embrace the human-all-too-human pleasures of fashion.
Do you think the pressure on women in philosophy (or the academy more generally) to shun fashion is real or imagined? Are the dress codes gendered or are all academics expected to be more concerned with high ideas than high fashion? Is fashion frivolous and trivial, “beneath” the proper concern of academics? In the words of Tim Gunn, how should philosophers “make it work”?