Transgression in Practice

Do you know that joke about a student who went to a Vintage Fair and said: “I’m just looking, I’m not going to buy anything?”

Right. Of course she bought two dresses and a skirt. For 17 pounds in total, so she’s not broke. And she looks drop dead gorgeous in her new Gothic Victorian lycra dress (that’s what someone told me today. I would never describe myself as drop dead gorgeous, naturally).

Anyway. I feel slightly guilty for not blogging about academic subjects (I will, at some point, and yes, I’m still working on exciting stuff, so be patient) but actually I might be able to connect this passion of mine to something a bit more intellectual. Maybe I can even bring in some… feminism.

Because academia is the most appearance-obsessed field I’ve ever been in. I quite like weird clothes (I own golden combat boots, lace leggings, a bright blue velvet jacket, and a vintage police coat which is several sizes too big). And I’ve had jobs which required me to dress a bit more professional and I’ve always been okay with that. But academia is different. Particularly when you’re a woman.

Many female academics I know pretend not to care about clothes. Of course, not caring about clothes is fine. After all, there are many things that are more important (like being a nice person, being able to run to catch a bus, and meeting that nasty deadline). But in fact most of the female academics I know do care about clothes. They just pretend they don’t.

The sad thing is: people still judge you based on how you look, particularly when you’re a woman. Men can get away with almost everything; I’ve seen male academics in outfits I wouldn’t even wear while working in my garden. No one seems to care.

It’s different for women. When you’re a woman, anything you wear is a statement. High heels say: “Look, I’m feminine!” Combat boots say: “Look, I don’t care about being feminine!” Even if you look as if you don’t care about what you wear, you’re still sending out a message: “I don’t care.” And even though the phrase “beauty with brains” is a cliche, in the minds of many people the two still don’t go together. I feel like I should be making a choice. Either I dress up, and deal with the fact that some people might take me less seriously. Or I dress down, and feel bored but respected. This is not a dilemma I’ve made up myself: look.

And frankly, I don’t want to think about this. I just want to wear clothes I love, now I’ve found the guts to wear them. I spent my teenage years in boring jeans and trainers because I was too scared to try anything else. And now I finally feel brave enough to wear the clothes I really like the question of professionalism and looks raises its ugly head.

I’ll probably end up wearing stuff I like. After all, the best way to change rules is by breaking them. Ha! Another link to my project! Next time I meet someone who looks disapprovingly at my outfit, I’ll kindly explain that I’m in the middle of an important transgressive experiment. I’d better start looking for participants. This could be serious fun.

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