Style is not anti-intellectual. It is actually more cerebral than you think.
To have a personal style is not to be defined by fashion and trends (or other people’s expectations of you), but to use it to make a statement about who you are. To do this effectively, you need to have a healthy understanding of self; and the ability to understand and appreciate who you are puts you in a good self-esteem place to be productive at any task in hand – within and outside academia.
Fashion and style in the academia are laden with certain assumptions that make it such a sensitive subject. In this article, Francesca Stavrakopoulou talks about women and the “male uniform”. She says, “dressing in a more conventionally feminine way is somehow more friviolous, and can undermine perceptions of a woman’s intellectual and professional skills.” The irony of this reality is that there is no win for the woman in academia. When she conforms to the male uniform, she is called out on “power-dressing”; a term described as the “coded language used to accuse a woman of asserting herself in overly-ambitous ways.”
The unspoken dress-code in academia (even per discipline) makes it a difficult place to be yourself in terms of how you present yourself; more so, when we are not entirely certain what the code is. Someone gave me a true-life tale: she was to speak at a public conference, and after the session someone walked up to her and said “…you are an academic and you have nice shoes!” I’d like to think the speaker meant no harm, but the shock-factor lies in what remained unsaid – “you are NOT expected to wear nice shoes!”
If you are in academia, you have earned your place to be there; and choosing to pay attention to personal grooming and wearing beautiful professional outfits that suit your body type and image cannot and should not take that away from you. The fangs come out whenever someone tries to challenge the status quo. I watched with wonder, the Twitter reactions to this article on The Guardian: Academics – Dump the Corduroy & Flaunt your Fashion Sense (now taken down). Closer to home, the reactions to my platform, Stylish Academic, have been mixed, but it’s been majorly celebrated – and I thank each and every reader.
Someone said about Stylish Academic, “…probably a bit too much fashion magazine-like and written in the style of those fashion girls that really have nothing else in their heads.” Then this person went on to condemn the beautiful ladies in science who were willing to share their sense of style by being featured on the blog. In response, one of our writers aptly set the record straight by letting the individual know that only thing to be peer-reviewed in the academe was intellectual output and not choices of what to study (or wear, I might add). You can read the full story here.
It is absolutely possible to care about style and discuss Brexit with your new handbag sitting gingerly atop your desk says Telegraph UK (paraphrased). Material things are not wired to determine the makeup of my brain-cells. I use my brain-cells for many tasks, including determining which material items best represent me the way I want to be portrayed. That is what is cerebral about personal style.
“Why can’t a smart woman love fashion?”, asks internationally acclaimed author, Chimamanda Adichie. It is difficult to embrace fashion as an academic when studies are published that “warn” that university lecturer awards can ‘sow division’ because students tend to nominate entertaining and “sexy” academics. You see where I am going? In my opinion, this implicitly shames the academic into consciously dressing “unsexily” in order for their academic output and contribution to shine. Why should this be?
As we often say at Stylish Academic, smarts and style are not mutually exclusive. It’s our mantra. One day, the name of this website will no longer ring the “antithesis” bell to anyone who comes across it. Academic halls won’t be places where fashion has come to die, rather, they will be spots where smarts and style mix so effortlessly the only “K” the next generation would be keeping up with would be K-nowledge. Catch my pun yet? 😉
This post was originally written for the Warwick PhD Life blog. Feature photo by Luke Palmer.