Why Do Academics Dress So Badly? (Answer: They Are Too Happy)

A female colleague complimented her colleague’s attire stating that she likes his shirt, suit, and the fact that they go very well together, which is rare for academics. This observation is sadly true as another colleague once asked what would be the opposite of "smart casual". They both concluded that it would be "scruffy formal", with the description fitting a male professor who is close to retirement age and attending a university function with clothes that have aged faster than their owner. To dress well for such an event, one must randomly choose a "pair of trousers", "a shirt", "a jacket", and "a tie" from their closet and put them on correctly. In contrast, there’s great inequity when it comes to male and female dress codes in high society. Men only need a dinner suit, but women need a different outfit for each event to avoid wearing the same thing twice. Although students sometimes mention a lecturer’s outfits in questionnaires, only a few academics worry about dressing up, and one colleague stated that it takes her the same amount of time to decide on her "I don’t care" look as it does others who dress to impress. This gender split is perhaps the reason a lot of men just wear the same clothes every day.

In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith pointed out that in the late 18th century, no man could appear in public without shame unless he wore a linen shirt even if it was expensive, and there is probably a similar equivalent today. In meetings, it’s better to be the best-dressed individual in the room if one wants to be obstructive as it makes them appear more like a management consultant rather than a 60s throwback. For men, cufflinks help but should avoid anything that is made to be amusing, while women should wear a Hermès scarf to swing the vote.

If academics truly dress badly, it was explained by Karl Marx in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, where he explored the idea of "alienated labour". Marx was concerned that with capitalism’s emergence, work was de-skilled to the point where laborers lost their distinctively human characteristics in the workplace, with their work being reduced to merely an "abstract activity and a stomach." Marx observed that they take solace in their "animal functions," which include "eating, drinking, procreating, and… dressing up" to cope with their miserable conditions. Therefore, academics dress badly because they find fulfillment in their work. Jonathan Wolff, the professor of philosophy at University College London and dean of arts and humanities, wrote this.


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    Ollie Fox is an experienced blogger and educator. He has written for a variety of educational websites, and has also taught online courses on blogging and social media marketing. Ollie is passionate about helping others learn how to be successful online, and he enjoys sharing his knowledge and insights with the readers of his blog.