What are U profs wearing?

There was a time when professors were known for their plaid, patchy jackets, horn-rimmed glasses, a thinning comb-over and the occasional mismatched tie.

But today’s professors can be seen milling around campus dressed in a flurry of colors, textures and styles.

Some dress for comfort, choosing jeans over slacks. Others dress the part of a professional in their chosen field, be it business or geology.

The Daily sat down with a handful of University professors and asked each to describe his or her personal sense of style.

Inspiration in clothing

Marcela Garcés isn’t a professor yet, but she may be one day. She’s a graduate instructor in the Spanish and Portuguese language department.

Garcés likes to dress up on days when she teaches, wearing things like skirts, nice pants or a dress, she said.

“I think it lends a certain amount of professionalism,” she said.

Although Garcés isn’t a traditional professor, she said she still likes to put forth a professional image to her classes, especially upper-division courses.

“I’ve always really liked clothing,” she said.

Inspired by things she sees everyday in photography, art and nature, Garcés tries to express that inspiration in her clothing.

Her favorite items are vintage or secondhand, she said, and she enjoys accessories from around the world.

Garcés finds a difference between her style and that of her professors, but said it’s important for her to differentiate herself from students.

Not a stereotypical professor

Cultural studies and comparative literature professor of 23 years John Mowitt said he always aims for comfort in his clothes. When he shops, he said he thinks about how the items will make up different outfits.

“I make selections because the look I achieve appeals to me,” he said.

Mowitt said he knows he doesn’t dress like a stereotypical professor. “I don’t wear a tweed sports coat with leather elbow patches, for example,” he said.

“I will typically lecture in a jacket or a sports coat,” he said, “but will put it over whatever I have on.”

Mowitt said he considers himself respectful of the unofficial dress code encouraged by the administration, but has “no strong compulsion to wear a white shirt and tie.”

Down with formality

Geography professor Roger Miller said he’s always hated sports jackets and ties.

Miller lectures in an array of brightly colored and patterned Hawaiian, anime and samurai shirts.

“I don’t think (students) take me less seriously at all,” he said. “I make it pretty clear that I’m trying to break down formality and hierarchy.”

When Miller started wearing the Hawaiian shirts to class 20 years ago, he said they definitely stuck out among other faculty members.

Miller said he’s had experiences on the first day of class where his teaching assistant was dressed more formally than he was, and the students mistook the TA as the professor.

As Mark Twain once said, “The clothes make the man,” Miller said. “Appearances govern the way you are treated.”

Ready to get messy

Justin Revenaugh of the geology and geophysics department said he frequently teaches in clothing appropriate for a geologist: jeans, a T-shirt or sweater, and hiking boots.

“I would hate to think that my respect for me comes from my clothes,” he said. “I want my students to feel that I’m approachable, so maybe clothes help with that.”

When geologists are out in the field, they have to climb over rocks and get dirty, Revenaugh said. “It’s a messy business, so you wear the clothes you would wear if you were hiking.”

Revenaugh said his baby boomer generation had different experiences from the generation before it, and those experiences in youth might have contributed to a style shift in higher education.

For Revenaugh, it wasn’t so much his experience as a baby-boomer in the 1960s and 1970s, it was the year he spent working at an oil company, where he had to wear a suit and tie every day.

“When I came back to academia, it was a great relief to me that there were no longer rules on how I had to appear.”

Societal shift

Art history professor Robert Silberman said the trend of increasingly casual dress extends beyond higher education and has been part of an overall societal trend.

“I happened to go to a school where we did have a dress code,” he said. “So I wore a coat and tie from about seventh grade on.”

Silberman, who said he usually teaches in a coat and tie, said the level of formality varies in his department.

Different colleges and departments might have varying expectations of what’s acceptable teaching attire, he said.

Silberman said he’s not sure whether casual trends on campus have been led by the attire of teachers or students.

He said he’d like to think that how a teacher leads a class or the ideas he or she has should matter more than his or her appearance.

“On the other hand,” he said, “Oscar Wilde said something roughly like, ‘You can never be so superficial as not to judge by appearance.'”

Dressing for success

Business communications professor JoAnn Syverson said when she teaches, she dresses to model the attire students in her classes will be expected to wear in their careers.

Syverson said her experience running a consulting business has influenced her attire in the business school.

“I see the attire that is expected of management,” she said. “I think that flavors how I dress.”

The clothes she wears help to distinguish her as a professional and a mentor, rather than a friend, to her students, she said.

“One thing I teach my students is always being in control of our image,” Syverson said.

“Whether we know it or not, we are making choices about how others will perceive us,” she said. “One choice is the attire a person wears.”

Syverson said every aspect of a person’s style – hair, makeup, accessories, scents – all influence the image that others can perceive.

Student reaction

Nursing sophomore Anna Holzbauer said she tries not to judge her professors based on appearances alone.

“But I think it does affect your perception of people,” she said of professors dressing in a range of styles. “How they take care of themselves and their bodies, how they choose to deliver themselves to their classes.”

Holzbauer said depending on the class, she’d expect the professors to dress appropriately for that field – more professional for business, maybe less so for a class in the agriculture department.

When professors do dress more formally, which Holzbauer said she hasn’t seen too much, “it does set a standard for the rest of the class.”

Emma Carew is a senior staff reporter.