Friday, April 5, 2013

The Australian way of academic fashion

Scicurious on Neurotic Physiology wrote this interesting bit about the male/female double standard when it comes to "what to wear" in a university setting.
The topic got a lot of comments, mostly agreeing that the pressure to dress nice for work is much higher for female academics than for their male colleagues and is needed to be taken seriously by colleagues and students. Many of the commentators come from a US background and reflect pretty much my impression of dress-code behavior on American conferences. The few non-US contributors draw a bit of a different picture: that it is not so necessary to be neatly dressed-up including nice bits of jewelry and make-up to feel comfortable and to be taken seriously at work - neither for men nor for women.
The Australian way on the fashion topic is a bit special though: on the one hand Australians care a lot about what they wear and how they look. Not only when they go to a horse race, but at the beach, in the shopping malls, for a quick dinner at the Asian restaurant around the corner and for work as well. Australians wear stuff to work that I'd consider wearing for a cocktail party. Women usually appear better dressed, but men have a good sense for style as well. But in academia these social rules don't seem to apply. Here everybody dress as they please and looking at the university-wide professor and post-doc level you can find a great mix of everything. I haven't seen anybody in holey sweatpants yet, but both women and men cover the whole range from comfy clothes up to "nearly too nice for work". The (mostly male) post-docs and young academics in my institute are usually dressed in a nice "buttoned shirt and comfy pants" way and this is sometimes so inherent to them, that they forget to dress up when they go to an American conference.
I don't think that Australia is the "holy land" where people (in academia) are not judged by their looks, but it's maybe a bit more relaxed than in the US. And this setting gives me a great playground to experiment with work fashion and to pimp my tomboyish wardrobe without risking getting too much attention for it in one or the other way.

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