Thursday, July 17, 2008

What (Not) to Wear

I'm sure this has already been covered in the blogoshphere, but I'm especially curious to hear from our student readership: Do you care what your professors wear to class?

I ask because I like to wear jeans. I usually wear a blazer and often a tie. But I'm most comfortable wearing jeans. I know some people think this is inappropriate. Professor Erik Jensen, at Case Western Law, is one of those people. He wrote a paper about it (not about me and my pants in particular, but about law professors in general dressing scruffily).

The paper is a wonderful read. Professor Jensen proposes a Uniform Uniform Code (UUC) to regulate law faculty attire. Under the UUC, faculty members must "dress in a way that would not embarass their mothers, unless their mothers are under age 50 and are therefore likely to be immune to the possibility of embarassment from scruffily dressing, in which case the faculty members shall dress in a way that would not embarass my mother."

In case anyone cares, my jeans are okay under the UUC. My mother is over age 50 (hi Mom). And she is not embarassed by jeans--in fact, my mother called me lame when I rejected her suggestion that I wear jeans to my high school prom.

Anyway, I'm curious to hear thoughts on the issue. Students, do you care what we wear?


Anonymous said...

Yes, I care what professors wear to class.

This is a frequent concern of mine and I'm quick to comment on the topic. There's a noted decline in the ability of law students to present themselves appropriately in interviews and court proceedings and, to my mind, that's directly corrolated to the excessively casual atmosphere cultivated in the classroom.

When professors present themselves as professionals and dress as professionals do, they demonstrate the right way for law students to present themselves. Of the seven professors I've had thus far in my law school career, only four have demonstrated proper professional attire (in my opinion).

But rather than blather on ad naseum, which I am terribly capable of doing, I'll just relate this example from last semester. In class with Professor, now Dean, Reilly, a student related the facts of a case in class using vague, non-technical terms and phrases, getting all of the facts essentially right, but explaining it in a crude, sophistic manner. Following his explanation, Prof/Dean Reilly asked him to "Try that again, but this time try and sound like a lawyer." Not an exact quote, but embracing the spirit of the thing. The moral here is that students, and likely professors, can get away with casual attire and speech. However, it detracts from the professional environment and fails to foster sophisticated sensibilities in students - which are two of the metaeducational lessons learned in law school. And this is a severe disservice to students already fostered in a culture that promotes comfort over civility, indulgence over restraint, and idleness above all else.

Alison M. Kilmartin said...

Strong words from Mr. Wenzel, but I would agree for the most part.

It's not that professors dressed professionally teach better than professors dressed casually. It's that students need to learn that the law is a profession, and that being professional requires a certain level of dress that has nothing to do with your ability to practice the law. Clients like to see it, they want to see it, but you can't just be a pretty suit, you also have to have the goods.

Clothes are part of the picture, but not the whole picture. If a professor is dressed up but acts casual, students will act casual. If a professor is dressed rumpled but acts formal, students will act formal although they won't realize just from looking at the prof that formality is required.

As a student, I don't want to wear business casual every day when I am lugging my books around, but I do think students should wear nice clothes that don't look like they just rolled out of bed.

Anonymous said...

It is certainly the case that, at the limit, nearly everyone in the room would care what professors wear to class (e.g. leather unitard; just hightops). Between the comparitively narrow poles of jeans and dress pants, it seems objections to the former, however expressed, come down to a conviction that so dressing represents a symbolic disregard of the formality of the law and the profession (or, less attractively because more self-regarding, disrespect for the students).

I believe all of my professors thus far have dressed in a traditional manner. And I feel sure I would register initial surprise to see a professor teach a class in jeans. But that surprise would not be fronting a Slouching Towards Gommorah dispair. Rather, I would anticipate a somewhat different classroom experience; for it seems clear that there are porofessors who want to wear jeans and those who would not consider it. And that difference suggests the existence of others, which I think more valuable to be exposed to rather than not.

Kelly J. Bozanic said...

I agree, generally, with everything that has been said about professional v. casual dress. My one caveat is that the spectrum of jeans, in particular, is very wide. A professor (male) in *nice* jeans, professional shoes, a buttoned, long-sleeved top, sport coat and tie, would be very sharp. That is a far cry from the comfy old jeans one might wear to water the lawn in. There is also a difference, as noted by Prof. Kramer, between classroom attire and office attire. Many professors dress down on days they do not teach. The difference makes sense and gives class time a more formal feel. Perhaps a UUC for students is now in order! My vote, no hats!

Anonymous said...

Yes the spectrum of jeans can be vast. But too a tie could be obscene. What I think we are talking about here, of necessity given the lack of a graphic of Professor Kramer's jeans, are generalities. More refined qualifications require specific instances.

In re: a UUC for students, I wouldn't suggest it. Such an effort would turn even me, someone not given to protest and unlikely ever to test the bounds of an imagined UUC, into an anti-Jacobin radical.

Atom said...

I have had professors who wear jeans all the time and others who wear suits all the time, and some in the middle. I have had great professors on both ends of that spectrum. What makes a great professor is another discussion but ultimately I think when it comes to dress code, if the professor is comfortable the students will also be comfortable learning from that professor.

Now, some professors are comfortable in wearing a suit to class, and some are comfortable wearing jeans and a polo to class. If a professor is uncomfortable in what they are wearing, it shows. I feel the best learning environment is created when students and professors can communicate on a comfortable level.

Let's remember here folks that we aren't out in the working world yet. This is academia. As such, we are still learning. The world of suits and ties, etc. is the world where, for the most part, the learning is done and mistakes are not welcome. In the classroom, mistakes are free, so to speak, and are encouraged since they give us a chance to learn from and talk about those mistakes.

The bottom line is that if students aren't comfortable with the professor, students are much less apt to participate in class for fear of making a mistake. When everyone is comfortable with each other, the environment becomes much more conducive to learning, which is what we're all here for, right?

-Adam Shoneck '09