Spring Sartorial Options for the Young Academic

I posted last summer about my ongoing attempts to dress like a civilized person. My plan at that time was to aim for some level of consistency by setting “collared shirt with jacket and non-jeans” as my average, from which I could deviate by a step or two up or down on various days. In practice, I’ve probably gone dressier on average, wearing either a tie, a sweater, or both in addition to the base items. This has won me a reputation for being well-dressed, such that when I came to a weekend community event in jeans and a collared shirt, a student told me frankly, “You look weird.” And of course, I’ve obtained the all-important jacket with elbow patches — so overall, I’d say I made a strong start.

Now, however, something I’ve long feared is happening: spring is coming. Traditional men’s dress seems designed for fall and winter, even moreso in its academic variants, with the emphasis on sweaters and other layers long-since shed by businessmen and lawyers. I suppose there’s the option of simply shedding layers but sticking with the same general pattern, but how many concessions should I make to the changing weather? Should I venture into such realms as short-sleeved button-ups or perhaps even polo shirts? Should I aim for more spring-like colors, for lighter fabrics (above all on jackets, effectively extending jacket season)?

Or should I just sweat it out?

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37 Responses to “Spring Sartorial Options for the Young Academic”

  1. Josh K-sky Says:

    Intermediate: Seersucker suits. Advanced: Seersucker shorts suits.

  2. Kip Manley Says:

    Any outfit which combines shorts with suits is but a flagrant example of the grim dangers of compromise.

  3. Noah Says:

    Josh is 1000% right.

    Switch to linen pants; replace the jacket with a cotton or other spring-like fabric tie. The Tie Bar has great seersucker ties for summer.

    My aspiration for this summer’s wardrobe is an unlined linen jacket, but until then it seems to be (as you saw the other day) pushing the sleeves of my jackets to the elbow, which is not recommended.

  4. jdavidcharles Says:

    I say go with sweater vests and roll the dress shirt sleeves. It’s a classic really.

  5. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Noah, That’s why one needs working buttons on the sleeve, for a good old proper roll-up! I think linen and seersucker pants sound like a good option, but I’ve heard that linen suits look rumpled basically the instant you put them on — which kind of misses the point of wearing a suit. I shall check out the Tie Bar.

    There already seems to be an emerging concensus against polos or short-sleeved button-ups, if only via silence.

  6. AD Says:

    absolutely no short sleeves collared shirt tucked in. Folks will take you for a Presbyterian

  7. Adam Kotsko Says:

    The horror! The horror!

  8. Hill Says:

    I’ve said this before, but quality linen is incredible. Invest in a jacket. I got married in a linen suit in June and felt great.

  9. Josh K-sky Says:

    “Compromise”, Kip? Try “Aufhebung.”

  10. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I don’t know if I could pull off the seersucker short suit look. (ed note: link fixed, for any who clicked it seconds after I posted)

  11. ben Says:

    I think it’s more like “heinous abomination in the sight of the LORD”.

  12. Lindsey Says:

    polo shirts = ew

  13. Hill Says:

    Just don’t wear pants or shorts with “cargo pockets” unless you are an expedition of some sort.

  14. Allen G. Anderson Says:

    If you do decide to go with a short-sleeved, button-up option, make it a colorful, plaid number – oh and grow out a mustache! Don’t forget the mustache.

  15. Robert Says:

    Intriguing piece. I live in Houston so the climate is, well, intolerable for layers of any kind…save a shirt and trousers. One of the terrible developments in our culture has been the desolation of men’s fashion for unbecoming, unkempt, and ill fitting t-shirts and raggedy jeans. Though academia provides a better environment for dressing well, it isn’t a full proof situation. My standard dress is blazer, or suit, with slacks (of a light weight wool) and a button down dress shirt…I don’t do ties. Something like this appeals to me in my office and teaching times. Of course outside, I’m Houston, any clothes leads to sweating.

  16. Craig Says:

    Where I’m from, only business undergrads, professors who mistakenly think they are public intellectuals, and the executives dress as described in the original post and comments. It’s a satisfyingly unpretentious culture. You always know there’s an outsider interviewing for a job when someone dressed in the favoured way of this thread is found in a humanities or social sciences area of campus.

    For my part, I haven’t cut my hair in nearly a year and a half, haven’t shaved since the summer, and will usually wear the same pair of pants and t-shirt on all of my teaching days. I might take the general cultural tendency to an extreme, but I don’t stand out by any means.

    A well known academic–a star insofar as we have stars in our rather egalitarian culture–who was the internal on my MA showed up at my defense straight from his cabin dressed as though we were going to tap some maple or split some wood. It seemed normal to me.

    Disclosure: my brother–doing a PhD in CanLit–has been known to wear linen as described above in the summer. He is justifiably described as a doucher. He’d be doucher without the clothes, but the clothes certainly are an intensifier.

  17. Ruth Marshall Says:

    Stick with the sartorial upgrade- you’re doing great. For Craig, all i can say is, what sort of general culture might that be? the cult of the unwashed i’ve-taken-a-vow-of-celibacy? The lumberjack look only works if you’re handy with a chainsaw and have the muscles to prove it… Stop fantasizing Craig, you’re an academic! Adam, stay away from seersucker. Anything that has the word ‘sucker’ in it should make a person wary. Also, don’t shop in stores where they feel the need to add “bar” to the name, or where they only sell ties. Linen is great tho – the carelessly rumpled look is the whole point. Craig is NOT a reference on this – there is nothing less attractive than dressing like something the cat dragged in. But Noah is right, no fooling around with the sleeves – this ain’t no disco. No polos or short-sleeve collared shirts either, and, God help you, no sweater vests! There’s nothing classical about being a tea-party icon. If you want to wear t-shirts, go Euro. Actually, there’s only one rule for anything sartorial – go Euro. Finally, NO mustache, and lose the elbow-patches.

  18. Chris Brooke Says:

    And of course, I’ve obtained the all-important jacket with elbow patches…

    Congratualations, Adam. That’s terrific.

  19. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Craig’s studious squalor is of course its own kind of pretention.

  20. Moby Hick Says:

    Nice pants and a jacket are much cheaper than a cabin.

  21. Brennan Breed Says:

    Don’t forget light, summer weight wool jackets. Sounds like an oxymoron, but it exists and can feel significantly better in the heat. Do you read dappered.com? They let you know when great sales pop up online, and you can find good stuff for summer. If you can find a Joseph Abboud light wool jacket on significant sale, you’ll be happy.

  22. AD Says:

    Of course, there are certain loopholes. . . for instance if you dwell in the realms of French theory or feminism, you can actually get away with skinny jeans and v-neck t-shirts. Since Shimer has you teaching all over the map, maybe this can be an every-once-in-a-while option for you Adam. Of course, you’d have to ride a fixie to work.

  23. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Wouldn’t I have to smoke that day, though?

  24. Craig McFarlane Says:

    Ruth, it might surprise you that not only do I shower regularly, I’m also a recidivist fornicater. But your implied class resentment is palpable for those at UT routinely confuse a relative proximity to the Annex and Queen West (not to mention Bay Street!) with sophistication. I bet you hang out with my brother at the whiskey-&-cigar bar pouring over Russell Smith approved fashion advice. But, if you’re in a pinch and sans iPad thereby being unable to check with Russ on what to wear, I’m sure you’ll accept Mark Kingwell’s advice as you take the Robarts elevator and find yourself in the presence of almost-was greatness.

    For my part, I’ll refrain from chili-pepper seeking behaviors from my students. I suggest you do the same. It’s unbecoming.

    PS: condescend yourself to journey out of the 416 area code and take a look at your colleagues across the province. You’ll find suits–including lady pant suits–limited to the itinerant executives and “BCom” “students” and the linen limited to the professional doucher class. But then, given your hearty defense of academic douchery, you likely don’t find that to be a bad thing.

  25. Moby Hick Says:

    Who knew Canadians were so grumpy and over-compensate-ey?

  26. dbarber Says:

    For my part, i tend to dress in a way that i think looks good, generically speaking. Oh, i also make it a point to hang out with Craig’s brother, and to avoid all of the unstylish telephone area codes — the importance of these codes cannot be overemphasized. Yes, as i think about it further, it’s clear that all of my own sartorial options can be explained via Craig’s family dynamics. Adam, i’d recommend that you consider this possibility as a way of quickly solving all questions about what to wear.

  27. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Craig, You’re seriously fucking terrible. I’m sorry you don’t like your brother, but I doubt his pants have much to do with anything.

    For my part, I’d like to wear a lighter pant during the summer because I get horrible chafing wearing jeans in hot weather — is that somehow an expression of contempt for someone?

  28. Josh K-sky Says:

    Committed educator Ryan Gosling and I are going to make a pitch for light wool slacks and a short-sleeved men’s shirt. Crack pipe optional.

  29. Ruth Marshall Says:

    Sorry Craig – I had no idea I was walking on such a minefield! It’s the whole trouble with blogs – one minute you think you’re engaging in some cheap virtual humour amongst strangers, the next you’ve wounded an actual somebody’s manhood, and found yourself in bed with their brother! Not knowing you from Adam (sorry – lame but irresistible), I obviously didn’t mean you personally. Still, the rebuff was frankly too much information… Also, in my 416 area-code preciosity, I thought that ‘doucher’ was a jibe against those who like to shower. My apologies. Still, maybe you should lighten up?

  30. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Ruth, Now that that situation’s cleared up, I have to object strenuously to your anti-elbow patch stance.

  31. Ruth Marshall Says:

    Sorry Adam, I know it’s painful, but strait is the gate and narrow the path. I’m willing to make an exception though – they can be admitted as long as facial hair isn’t. Otherwise, I’m afraid one must chose…

  32. david cl driedger Says:

    FYI Ruth. The link to your name is dead. I picked up your book a while back (but have not yet finished it) so I was curious if you had your own little online space carved out.
    Love the southern Ontario sub-plot. . . makes me miss living in the armpit of Hamilton.

  33. voyou Says:

    I have to agree on the anti-elbow-patch position. I like the idea of self-consciously inhabiting norms of professorial dress, but elbow patches seem like an imagined norm rather than a real one, if that makes sense – what people imagine that everyone else imagines academics wear.

    On the subject of extending jacket season, a guy in New Orleans once tried to sell me a jacket made of a fabric derived from bamboo, which was very comfortable, lightweight without having the slightly dishevelled look of linen; I might well have bought it if it hadn’t cost some ungodly amount.

  34. Ken Surin Says:

    Elbow patches, it depends? On a standard denim or narrow cord jacket, a definite no. But on an elephant cord jacket with alternating silver and black cords, wow! I’m totally biased– I own this jacket.

  35. ben Says:

    To david cl driedger: you just need to remove the period from the end of the URL, thus.

  36. Moby Hick Says:

    Today, I saw a very frail, old man with a very old jacket. Both elbows had holes. He looked like he had other problems, so I didn’t ask him if he wanted to know where to buy patches.


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