When I was a little boy my parents were very serious about dressing me up for school. My mother told horror stories of having gone to private school with only one sweater for four years in the same tone my grandfather used to talk about his war experiences; and until I was about nine I thought my father’s pet nickname for me was “But what will other people think?” I suspect this partially explains how I ended up rockin’ the crocodile and sporting boat shoes and duck boots like my public school bus took a wrong turn on the way to prep school. While my teachers often complimented my parents on how nice I looked, my attire caused a somewhat different reaction in my fellow students. Later on, when I had a little bit of wardrobe autonomy, I worked out a version of classic prep and punk-rock delinquent that suited my liking, and wore Misfits shirts under Fair Isle sweaters, and Chuck Taylors at the bottom of khakis that ended somewhere around my upper shins. For my first driver’s license photo I died my hair blond, bought a Hawaiian shirt at the thrift store, and topped it all off with a tweed blazer. When I came home my father told me to get the hell off his lawn
My early experience sunk in deep: I am now a fashion nerd. When I was on the job market, I’m pretty sure I spent way more time researching the tie I was going to wear than preparing for interviews. One time I drove from Chapel Hill to Nashville for the sole purpose of buying a pair of jeans. I’ve spent hours looking at photos of Miles Davis in the mid-50′s to see which Brooks Brothers Oxford shirt he wore and I’m more interested in how Bill Eggleston became the best dressed man in the world than in how he revolutionized the world of photography through color.
How I dress has in my new job caused some mixed reactions. When I was filling out my paperwork my first day I was told “Oh, honey, it’s casual here,” a statement I didn’t quite understand at the time, since I wasn’t even wearing a bow tie; while others have complimented my style, and in the same sentence wondered if everyone in Chapel Hill is “like that,” too. Yeah, Chapel Hill is crazy preppy, which I liked, but most grad students weren’t, and I got some crap, along with some compliments, from them, too. This was always, and still is, sort of funny to me, because I don’t think I really dress up very much at all. I don’t ever wear T-shirts, but I don’t ever wear ties, either. Yeah, I own a pair of white bucks, but I didn’t wear them to work till my second day. Today I’m wearing an pink Oxford Cloth button down tucked into khakis with a pair of brogues. The shirt is wrinkled and so are the pants. Yesterday I wore loafers and a blue blazer and a different oxford shirt and the same pair of khakis. Some variant of this is pretty much my uniform: the same pair of Bill Reid loafers I got for Christmas and wore all through Chapel Hill; one of like four oxfords I got crazy on sale at Brooks Brothers; one flamboyant Mango-Sorbet colored polo; and one of two blazers. I rock it Seymour Glass style: I’m sort of picky about what I put on but then don’t really think about it at all.
My favorite blogger, Jessica Olin, has touched on this issue before, and offers quite sensible advice about librarians dressing to reflect the aesthetic of one’s campus culture. I was thinking about librarian wardrobes more recently, too, when our director sent around this interesting study from the Journal of Academic Librarianship, about librarian dress, and perceived approachability at the reference desk, which reports that “[m]ale librarians wearing formal clothing were perceived as more approachable than their baseline images in informal clothing, while the opposite was true for females” and concludes that “The findings of this study suggest that librarians can indeed increase their approachability by manipulating factors that are generally within their control: affect and clothing.” This is interesting, maybe, although what we’re supposed to do with the conclusion that “Librarians wearing blue shirts were perceived as more approachable than those wearing white shirts” is anyone’s guess.
My more general sense is that, although I’m interested in clothes, beyond dressing professionally and like a self-respecting grownup, clothes haven’t really got anything to do with librarianship, or anything else, really. Style … that’s a different story.
Nevertheless, I’ll act out some of my Style Blogger fantasies, and leave you with a bit of Friday fun, some advice from Sid Mashburn, whose Atlanta men’s haberdashery I once got to visit while out of town for an interview.If heaven exists, I hope it’s exactly what Sid’s store was like: