Thursday, April 27, 2017

More clothes signalling

This has not been a good week to be a clothing manufacturer.

Or perhaps, more likely, it's not been a good week to be an advertiser working for a clothing manufacturer.

First up where the pre-dirtied jeans from Nordstrom, which I have already written about.

(And yes: I think my annoyance is a combo platter of people signalling a virtue - "I work hard!" - that they might actually not have, and the fact that the people who think those jeans would be "cool" would be very similar to the people who harassed me in school for wearing "cheap" clothes because my family didn't believe in spending lots of money on clothes, especially not for a growing child who might be too tall for them in four months)

And I do still think the manufacturer deserves a bit of mockery for thinking it's a good idea, and the people who happily drop that kind of money on a pair of jeans that frankly, to me, look like the ones I have where I'd go, "Okay, those are for doing the really muddy chores in the yard, next step then is they get thrown out."

But now there's another ad that seems to extol "we know how people who work dress" - a Gap ad, featuring looks for "the start-up partner," "the small businessperson," "the financial advisor," and, best known to me, "the tenure-track professor."

I am actually wondering now if Gap intended this as parody and people are taking it earnestly, but I'm going to assume they meant it seriously.

For one thing: they're all young, thin, attractive women who look like they spend a lot of time every morning thinking about what they're going to wear and how it looks.

And okay, I do spend some time thinking about what I am going to wear, but most of the time that thought is: am I teaching in the classroom with the crazy (i.e., stuck on high) air-conditioning in it?

A secondary thought, that informed my choice today: Am I invigilating an exam, and therefore will really need a pocket so I can carry the row-counter I need for knitting while invigilating.

Inside Higher Ed, which I read more or less daily, commented a bit on it: one of the big things being: "Tenure-track jobs still exist?" (They do, but they're a LOT harder to come by than even 15 years ago).

But the other thing is: I don't dress like that. I don't know too many tenured or tenure-track people who do.

(I don't like blazers, for one thing: I've never had one that was tailored quite right for me; they all bind across the shoulders. I like cardigans, which are softer and stretchier. And also, I can knit my own while I invigilate exams...)

And the tagline: "Get respect for your ideas AND your blazer choices." That seems....kind of emsmallening to me. If students are noticing what I'm wearing rather than what I'm teaching, that suggests to me that I'm doing it wrong.

There was also a gag on Twitter about how you could have the adjunct professor version for a couple bucks at the Goodwill: "And the lining is made of crushed dreams." (Sad, but probably true, though I will note that I have a few dreams that are currently in a crushed state)

I'm not AS bugged by this as I am by the $425 jeans (though I will note the blazer is $98 and the full outfit the model is in - well, without shoes and "accessory" glasses - is about $220). But still, it just seems weird to me. Are there people out there who really want to masquerade as a tenure-track professor?

I'm also thinking of the old line about "Don't dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want" (though taken to its illogical extreme, that means I should show up in full Princess Celestia cosplay every day).

For one thing: hiring in academia has some pretty specific rules and at an ideal, we're not supposed to consider appearance, only experience and "fit" for the position (We have had, for example, to dump MANY application packets - most recently, for the anatomist position, where people who were, like, field mycologists were applying as a long-shot. Well, maybe not quite that ridiculously, but we've had a lot of people apply for positions where I went, "Did they actually read the ad past where it said "tenure-track"?"

But yeah. I don't think I've ever dressed like the woman in that ad. Typically how I dress:

average teaching day: dress or skirt and top, selected on the basis of (1) "how hot/cold is it likely to be outside vs. the rooms where I will be," (2) "Do I particularly need pockets or will the little "sporran" I made to wear on days when I am pocketless suffice, and does it match with what I'm wearing? (3) "What color do I feel like wearing today?" (Monday I wore a bright turquoise-blue top, because I suspected I was going to be photographed, and I wanted something that wouldn't make me look like a ghost on film) and sometimes (4) "Do I have any 'weird starers' in my class today, where that slightly more fitted knit dress would be a bad idea" (One semester, when I had a couple of the "new boys" from the "old boys club" major, I took a couple dresses out of the rotation because I suspected I was getting looked at differently in them. It sucks but that's how it is sometimes when you're a woman, especially a woman with, as they say in French, il y a du monde au balcon.)

Messy teaching day (e.g., the soils lab with the reagent that will permanently stain everything it touches, including my hands) - old skirt and t-shirt that is either white cotton (can be bleached) or is one I care little enough about/am close enough to replacing that it doesn't matter.

Field day: Khaki pants (the better to see if you have a tick walking up your trouser leg, and less-hot than jeans) and a cartoon-character t-shirt, with optional XXL cotton long-sleeve shirt over it, to protect my Irish/Northern German skin from the sun, and also to protect against biting plants. When in the field: pants legs tucked into the tops of tall socks. It looks goony but it keeps ticks from walking up INSIDE your trouser legs.

And a second IHE story, also about clothes, also about "signalling": Southwest Theological Baptist Seminary apologizes for professors dressed as rappers. I'm not even going to talk about the racial aspect here, because I'm white myself, other than to note that this is an unfortunate use of imagery. (And also, as someone argued in the comments: it could be "youth culture" in general, not just "Black youth culture" - I've seen white or Native kids who dressed kinda that way)

The bigger thing is: I dislike the idea, which is sometimes floated out there, that professors and other older-types should "strive to be hip and young." Because when there's that pressure, this is the kind of thing you get. It does look like the profs chose to do this themselves and weren't pressured by some silly "recruitment" (or other) initiative, but still. (And yes, it is rather tone-deaf).

Though all too often, you do hear that on college campuses: Keep up with youth culture! Consider doing office hours via text or Snapchat! (no. Dear God, no. Not via Snapchat.). Kids today don't like to e-mail, they like to text! (Too dang bad. I'm the 'authority' here: my house, my rules. I prefer e-mail because it's more permanent and also I don't have to try to peck out a message with my thumbs).

The thing is: we're trying (at least in some cases) to socialize late-teens into behaving like responsible adults, so why should we be pressured to drop some of the trappings of being "adult" to "come to their level" or some such?

Also, the bigger issue: it pretty much never works. As I said on twitter: trying to be cool automatically makes you uncool. And you can trust that coming from me as I have been uncool pretty much my entire life.

Also, coolness is such a slippery concept. I do think what is "cool" is more in the mind of the beholder than of the beheld, and everyone has a different opinion of what makes someone cool. I know I had profs I thought were cool because of their passion for their subject or that particular dry humor that people in academia sometimes develop, and my friends were like "OMG, you like HER? Why?" And there were also professors people loved and thought were "so cool" that I gave a wide berth to because....I don't know, I'm suspicious of someone who seems TOO facile, too smooth. And I was suspicious of the people who handed out extra credit like candy at hallowe'en.

I've said before I cling to whatever dignity I have about as jealously as a cat. Yes, there are a few times I'm willing to look slightly ridiculous: knitting while I invigilate, waving my arms around to mimic the movement of cilia and flagella on single-celled organisms, telling the story about how I freaked out over having scarlet fever as a child because of a book I read....but I don't like being TOLD "do this thing that makes you look undignified because it's cool, or because it advances the university somehow." - hence my discomfort with the idea of the Ice Bucket Challenge (which I didn't have to take part in; I think there were a number of our students willing to do it), and my cringing over the video skits some of the departments did to promote the Get Fit challenge (I hate the way I look and sound on video anyway).

So I don't know. Yes, I dressed up as Beatrix Potter on Hallowe'en, but that seems different somehow. (And a couple years prior to that, I did Gothic Spider Lolita, even if I'm a little old for Gothic Lolita). But there's no photographic evidence (other than the ones I took, as far as I know), so....

But yeah. This has been a weird week for clothing and what it signals.

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