They say "dress for success"…

A blog post from SOLES Ambassador and PhD in Leadership Studies, Conor McLaughlin:
Often, the way one dresses can have an impact on how they are perceived, and how they are able to take up their role. For example, whenever I am teaching a class, I wear a blazer and tie (though almost never a suit). I do this for 2 reasons: 1) I see teaching and engaging with students in a classroom as an experience that deserves some reverence, and 2) because there are a variety of people who have expectations that I have to navigate in my role as an instructor.
The first point may seem a bit overly dramatic, but I take my work (very) seriously, and I think that entering the space of a classroom and doing the work that goes on in that space should have a sense of occasion. I want to feel like I put some effort into showing up, and one of the ways I try to do that is in the way that I dress. My parents have a deeply engrained notion that going to their place of worship in less than a formal clothing is a sin, and the more I learn about the potential of education and classrooms to be places of personal and spiritual liberation, the more I see them as truly sacred spaces. So I tend to want to treat my most sacred places the way that other people want to treat theirs.
The second point is complicated (as most things tend to be), but needs to be addressed. At any given point during my day, I have to interact with undergraduate students, graduate students, administrators, faculty members, deans, department chairs, and friends. Each of those people probably have a pretty wide variety of expectations for how someone meeting them in their role will dress, and given that I share an office with 6 other people, finding a place to do a complete wardrobe change would be difficult, so I tend to stick with the outfit that works on the more formal side of the expectation scale. I do also need to distinguish myself from the undergraduate students (and sometimes other graduate students), and I do need to take up my role as an administrator, as a member of the faculty, and as a formal authority in many spaces, and dressing a particular way can serve as a short hand for that.
I will also acknowledge that playing with roles can be a good thing. I gave a presentation this past summer with a colleague, and we dressed very differently in our roles as facilitators. I in a coat and tie, she in cut-off shorts and a tank top. While not something we planned, given the topic of conversation the divergence and enforcing of those role expectations actually added to the conversation we were facilitating around assumptions, perceptions, and identity. My colleague and I had a conversation a few weeks later, and we acknowledged that in that space we had a lot of room to play with expectations, but that other spaces, like our classrooms or our formal offices, did not offer us the same amount of wiggle-room.
There are other ways to play with role expectations, and they can be subtle but effective. I am rarely seen in public without my nails painted, and I do this as both a way to disrupt some of the expectations about men and male identity in a formal role, and because I think it looks good on me. I also try to wear at least 3 different patterns in my outfit, which is both attention grabbing and can be a very effective way of letting people know that I like to do things a little different than most, since most people aren’t used to seeing someone in a coat and tie wearing floral, gingham, and polka-dots in the same outfit.
To close out, my hope with this is not to continue to enforce a strict and specific set of values and ideas about dressing for work, but rather to encourage people to think about new, fun ways to take up the roles that they have. While many people still tell me I should be “dressing for the job I want, not the one I have,” I’d like to think that I, and you, could be dressing for being our authentic selves in the roles we have to take up every day. The job I want most is to be me.

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