Last week, Erin wrote about her opinions on five wardrobe essentials for the female academic in the humanities. She framed this discussion in terms of the many shifts that we face when moving from life as a graduate student to life as faculty member. I navigated this shift two years ago as I moved from grad student to the lecturer circuit. But since I only ever taught two or three days a week, I didn’t have to make the everyday plunge into professional attire.
With my new postdoctoral position on what guest ProfHacker Bethany Nowviskie calls the alt-ac track, however, I’ve been working closer to what most people would consider a regular work week. I’m in the library at least forty hours a week, and I don’t have an office door that I can shut and that would allow me to get away with something more casual. What’s more, since my position happens to be at my graduate institution, I’ve felt that it was important for me to try to establish my professional persona in a more distinct way than I might have felt elsewhere. The result is that I’ve had to flesh out my closet just a bit in the last few months and that I’ve become very conscious of my five wardrobe essentials that I can’t live without.
Here they are:
1. Levis 514 Jeans. If it were up to me, I would almost always wear jeans. Unfortunately, boot cut jeans do not look all that professional. So I was very pleased when I found the Levis 514 Slim Straight, which are just like their ad copy says: never too tight and never too baggy. I have several pairs in very dark washes, and I collectively call them my “teaching jeans.” I don’t wear them everyday, but I sure wish I did.
2. Banana Republic button-up shirts. Not only do Banana Republic’s button-up Classic Fit shirts in medium always fit me, but they always look better than other shirts. Both the fabric and the cut seem to be of a significant higher quality than every other dress shirt I own. Of course, that quality comes at a price, and it’s one that I hate to pay. Shopping only from the sale racks means that I save at least 20%. I still pay a bit more than I would at JC Penny, but the quality of the shirts means they last longer.
3. Banana Republic long-sleeve fitted crew shirts. Same story as above. When I want to dress a little bit more casual—days when I’m attending a conference but not speaking, for example—my default is a long-sleeve crew-neck t-shirt from Banana Republic. I have them in colors that run the rainbow, and I end up comfortable and I feel sharp. Again, I’ve found a number of these shirts on the sale racks, but I paid full price ($26.50) for basic black and brown.
4. Sports coats. I like to dress up the t-shirts mentioned above with any number of sports coats. I’ve had great success finding classic corduroy and suede jackets at vintage and thrift stores for less than $20. A trip to the dry cleaner, and I’m ready to teach.
5. Converse All Star Core OX. Some might disagree with me here, but I believe the Converse low-top sneaker is a classic and can work well in professional situations. I use my black pair (pictured above) to tone down what might otherwise be a too formal outfit or when I, like Erin mentioned last week, just want to be comfortable. It’s true that Converses are narrow and that they lack much arch support, but my current position doesn’t have me on my feet all that often and so they work well.
Not only do these five items help me look professional, but they allow me to feel good about how I look at the same time. And feeling like you look good goes a long way to helping you look good.
It’s Friday, so let’s have a little fun. What are your wardrobe essentials?
[Image by Flickr user briancroxall / Creative Commons licensed]