Twelve years ago I edited a feature article for Physics Today entitled “So you want to be a professor!” Having recently landed a tenure-track job at San Diego State University, the article’s author, Matt Anderson, wanted to share his job-hunting experiences.
Among the advice that Anderson offered was this paragraph on what to wear to a campus interview:
When trying to decide what to wear for the interview, it is probably better to err on the side of being a little overdressed. For men, I recommend a comfortable suit and tie. The female candidates I conferred with generally wore suits—either a skirt-suit or pantsuit—stockings, and low heels. Although physicists generally dress casually, I urge you to look sharp. It is better to stand out a little because, after all, you are the candidate and people should know it! If you’re still uncertain, a good idea is to observe what the well-respected scientists wear to conferences. They generally dress in a style known as “business professional.” For my interviews I brought two outfits: a suit for the day of the colloquium, and a shirt and tie combo for the other day. Also, wear comfortable shoes! You will be on your feet for two days straight.
Fashion and levels of sartorial formality haven’t changed significantly since Anderson wrote his article. Indeed, modish men’s suits continue to follow the slim silhouette that Hedi Slimane introduced in 2001, soon after he joined Christian Dior to become the fashion house’s creative director for menswear. Women’s clothes also fit more closely than they did in the 1990s, when Giorgio Armani’s soft, loose style predominated.
Whether we like it or not, the fashions of London, Milan, Paris, and New York do influence our expectations of what it means to be well dressed. In a recent post to the blog Marketing for Scientists, Marc Kuchner asked image consultant Kasey Smith the question, How is a scientist supposed to dress? Her principal advice: Your clothes should not be baggy.
You could take your clothes to a tailor shop, or when you buy new clothes have them tailored to fit you. Men know this already. Men’s clothes come with the hems not even in there. They know that they have to mark the hems. Women just think that clothes should fit them off the rack, but that’s not true either. Just like men have to do these alterations, so do women.
Of course, interviewing for a job and giving a talk—two occasions when one might dress up—are not what most scientists do most of the time. Nevertheless, says Smith, even casual clothes should look neat and presentable.
I rather like the typical indifference of physicists to their clothing. We wear what we like when we like. What matters is our work, not our appearance. On the other hand, given that physics is one of the highest expressions of human civilization, and given that our collective image helps to attract (or repel) young people, we should perhaps pay attention to Smith’s advice.