#AcademicStyle and Owning the Room

How do you move from the safety of basic black to the power of Fluevogs and statement necklaces?

October 28, 2019

In a recent UVenus post, we discussed academic work fashion. UVenus writer Janni Aragon brought her perspective to the conversation and pointed out that the presentation of self matters and it matters even more for women and people of color. As we know, if you are a woman of color, you experience a double bind. However, the way you dress and present yourself to the world can also be a way to talk back, to assert your identity, to own the room, to channel your inner Latina and to rock your style.

There are constraints to one’s ability to own the room. There are limits. And you can either follow Janni’s lead and go bold or do what I did many years ago and give in to the pressure of the constraints. For me, this involved purchasing five identical pairs of nondescript black pants, two equally boring black blazers, one dark-gray blazer for those times when I was feeling a bit wilder, and several please-help-me-blend-into-the-furniture sleeveless tops. For many years in academic administration, this was my uniform. I told myself that it didn’t matter that I began each day by dressing myself in the most boring clothing possible. I told myself that what mattered most was my intellectual contribution, not the way I dressed.

Then one day, I started to witness the power of presentation and noticed how one set of blue-framed eyeglasses or a bright-yellow trench coat could brighten up the room, make people more at ease and elicit appreciation and affirmation, especially from my female colleagues and even from random women I encountered on the city bus or when walking down the sidewalk. I started to realize that not only did my boring uniform bring no joy to me, it also brought no joy to those around me. Not only was my self-presentation my statement to the world, it also had the potential to be a small gift to the world -- bringing brief moments of brightness and joy to those around me or maybe even amusement and laughter -- which is actually quite wonderful.

Just last week, we were hit with the story of the egregiously sexist Ernst & Young training, which included a segment focused on how women should or should not dress for men. What is ironic about this is that most of the women I know dress for other women, particularly for the women who “see” them, notice them, comment on their outfits, accessories and haircuts, support them, and amplify them in meetings and elsewhere.

This practice of female solidarity was part of our discussion on #AcademicStyle in last week’s “View From Venus” podcast with Janni Aragon. Give it a listen and let us know what you think, and maybe join us by taking a photo of your academic style and sharing it on IG, Twitter or Facebook.

When setting up our new University of Venus account on Instagram, I did a little sleuthing, and the #AcademicStyle, #StylishAcademic and #ProfessorStyle hashtags are filled with amazing photos of women (and men and nonbinary folks) from around the world, sharing their styles, their personalities and themselves. It made my heart sing. I just wish my younger self could have met these folks and felt empowered to own the room, bring joy and smiles, see and be seen. As a first-generation college student, I never knew what to wear to any given event, and some of the most embarrassing moments from my childhood and young adulthood involved a blue-buckled shoe or a pair of too-loud plaid pants. In moments of transition and uncertainty, I have always reverted to basic black blend of don’t-call-attention-to-yourself kind of clothes: my father’s funeral, my first formal dinner in college, job interviews, dress-up events, even weddings. Now that I’m in my 50s and the mother of a teenager, I am rocking Docs and Fluevogs, patterned dresses and leggings, statement necklaces and blue-framed glasses, and a bright-yellow trench coat.

What’s your #AcademicStyle?


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