Fashion Fail

Response to Gap ad shows perils of attempting to define or monetize academic fashion.

April 27, 2017

“Dress codes and good style aren’t mutually exclusive,” according to an online Gap ad that was panned by academics on social media this week. The display, featuring a “tenure-track professor,” struck many as random, tone-deaf to the realities of the academic job market or unrealistic if not a tad sexist (possibly all of the above).

“The Workwear Spectrum” ad features four young female models in clothing that Gap for some reason thought might be appropriate for the following professions: “start-up partner” (short-sleeve denim shirt and white chinos); small-business owner (striped shirt, white jeans and, according to Gap, a “never-ending supply of coffee”); financial adviser (boho orange blouse and khakis); and, of course, the tenure-track professor (loose navy blazer, blue top, light gray pants and suede pumps).

“Get respect for your ideas and blazer choices,” reads the accompanying text, which shows a set of groovy plastic eyeglass frames the “professor” herself has elected not to wear.

Karen Kelsky, an academic career coach who runs the blog The Professor Is In and a frequent critic of the flagging tenure-track job market, was among those who posted the ad to Twitter. With a simple “seriously?” Kelsky let her followers provide the commentary.

Here are some additional reactions from Twitter.

For those who follow mainstream culture’s attempts at monetizing academic fashion, the Gap ad vaguely recalls Amazon’s Halloween 2014 “Delicious Women's Phd [sic] Darling Sexy Costume.” A play on “racy” profession costumes (firefighter, flight attendant, etc.), it featured a barely there gown, cap and stole. Academics had the last laugh, though, trolling the comments section.

The 2015 Twitter topic #looklikeaprofessor also tried to dispel perceptions about what a professor looks like, with a number of women pointing out that faculty members aren’t just white men in tweed. In fairness to Gap, that’s what it was trying to do, too -- evidently poorly.

Gap did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.


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