Not my conference, but a generic photograph found online of some conference session somewhere, to set the mood and tone for today's post.
The spring term has concluded, final grades have been submitted, and with only one student complaint, so life is reasonably good. It has been a busy several weeks here, but now it's time to catch my breath and concentrate on my own professional activities for a few months without too much distraction.
Apropos that, I spent the day yesterday attending several sessions that are part of a two-day conference here on second language acquisition, and the various ways technology can be used to enhance it. The sessions I heard were thought-provoking, I met a few interesting people, and I left with a number of interesting ideas although I am not currently teaching any L2 courses. Good. The time was well-spent then.
But, you can't attend one of these things with your eyes open and come away without the distinct impression that there are an awful lot of academics -- highly educated people, mind you, even overly educated as my wife sometimes points out with a chuckle -- who somehow failed to get the memo on presenting themselves to the world with a modicum of polite behavior, grooming, and sophistication.
Oh, sure. I realize that the prevailing attitude among many in academia is something along the lines of, "I'm too busy with my all-important cerebral musings and activities to worry about and take the time with things as frivolous as manners and fashion!" You know what I mean, I'm sure. Well, we're simply talking about coming across as a reasonably well-groomed, practiced, serious, and pleasant professional. Nothing more. And much like in the business world, so much of a person's professional image and reputation is about instilling confidence in his or her abilities and activities through careful self-presentation. With that in mind, here are a dozen reminders to conference goers everywhere. Ready, Freddy? In no particular order. . .
1) Yeeeeeesss. . . The world wears bluejeans. I get it. For the record, I like Levis 501s and Dan Post cowboy boots myself for those less than formal occasions. I know, I know. . . And I'm so ashamed. But unless you are under 25 and/or still very thin, it might be best to leave the jeans at home when you attend a conference. I'm talking to men as well as women here.
Instead, pack and wear either dress chinos, or wool pants that both fit AND hold a crease. Saggy, baggy blown out, torn jeans, or that tacky preternatural faded denim straining to cover a larger than average, middle-aged posterior (or worse, are difficult to keep up and in place) look good on no one. And by the way, tight jeans that have what look like rhinestone applique on the rear end or along outer seams simply make you look cheap. Or like you're out for an evening of country line dancing at that new honky tonk out on County Road 47. That's not really the impression we want to make among colleagues and associates in our field(s).
2) Likewise, leave the animal print tops at home, ladies. Items like these are more appropriate for clubbing or bar-hopping in the evening and don't really scream competent professional, now, do they?
3) And here is a tip for the boys. If you are no longer a terminally rumpled graduate student existing on coffee and bile, it's time to stop looking like it. Now, no one is suggesting that you become an empty-headed popinjay like yours truly, but all you need to do to kick up your style game a couple of three notches is to look at a website of, or paper catalog from, a company like Land's End. They make it easy, and their prices are very reasonable.
Without getting into a discussion of that particular company, it's new direction, or the declining quality of its products here, what you need to do is purchase three-four understated pairs of pants along with five or six long-sleeve sport shirts (in your exact neck and sleeve sizes) that can be mixed and matched in various ways. Toss in a couple or three pairs of leather dress shoes with appropriate belts, and you've got quite a few suitable combinations for teaching, offices hours, and conference wear. Same thing for the ladies, although maybe a skirt or dress can be added to the mix without difficulty. It's takes next to no time to order the stuff online, and there are always plenty of pictures showing how various things can be combined, so the tired, old "no time" argument carries no weight.
4) Um, guys? There is no denying that a sports jacket, or blazer adds a bit more polish to your overall look even if, or when you are not all suited up. Same thing for the ladies, depending on the items you select for the day or evening.
5) Tuck in your shirts, please, gentlemen. We aren't sitting in front of the TV at home, mowing the lawn on a hot summer's day, digging roadside ditches, or lounging beneath a palapa on a steamy Caribbean beach somewhere. We're in a climate controlled, comfortable environment, here. Pull yourselves together!
6) Here's a tip for everyone. . . Firm handshakes and look new acquaintances in the eye when you meet people, people! Anything less makes you seem tentative and uncomfortable. . . if not just downright awkward.
7) Leave the sneakers at home too. A pair of leather loafers (flats or low-heeled pumps for the dressier ladies) is fine for the daytime with maybe a slightly dressier (but understated) pair of leather oxfords of some kind for the evening events that are invariably for of the opening and closing nights of many, many conferences. Women have a bit more leeway here, depending on season and conference location, but please do better than flipflops. You are not at the poolside or beach. In any case, those cheap, square-toed, clunky shoes did not look good on either sex in the 1990s, and they don't look good now. You're grown-up professionals with at least some expendable income. Time to step up your footwear game and spend a little more to ensure both acceptable professional appearance AND comfort.
8) There is always lots of coffee lurking around the peripheries of conferences and conventions, and I indulge in plenty myself when it's fresh, but, please. . . Breathmints! 'Nuff said?
9) Likewise, shower and use deodorant when you get up in the mornings while attending conferences. Over the years, I've run into quite few people (men AND women) moving around in that unmistakable funky cloud of B.O. I always think of the Peanuts character 'Pigpen' when this happens. . . and then run in another direction. Now, I understand that there are people who become very nervous when it comes time to present their paper as part of a conference panel, and deodorants sometimes fail in these situations. If that happens to you more than once, however, maybe it's time change brands? Unless you really don't mind smelling like it's 1970 on the other side of the Iron Curtain that is.
9b) Um, on a similar note. . . Don't pass gas in a roomful of other people, ladies and gentlemen. It is foul and highly offensive. Either squeeze the muscles in your rear end together and keep yourself from doing it, or retire to the restroom and take care of the problem in private. Otherwise, see your doctor if chronic flatulence are really that problematic for you. Contrary to what boys at summer camp think, it is not something to share with the rest of the world. And yet the apparent number of people who think the ol' one cheek sneak is somehow permissible, and even acceptable, is astounding. Ugh!
10) Guys, either learn how to press and fold your own shirts, or drop off several at the dry-cleaner's a week before your conference. Ask for them to be laundered, pressed, folded, and placed in individual plastic sleeves with cardboard inserts beneath the collars. When packing your bag, simply secure the three or four shirts on top of everything else, and zip up. You'll look a whole lot fresher and more pulled together when you meet new faces in your field and bump into old friends during the conference. Or you cross paths with reviled enemies. Unless, of course, you don't mind looking (and feeling) like you've lived in the nearest airport terminal for several days running. Then by all means, like, hey, continue. Um, that's a Cheech and Chong reference, son.
11) Neckties are not strictly necessary (for men) during daytime conference sessions, at least not from what I have seen in The Humanities, but it might be a good idea to pack something understated for evening events -- in navy, black, or maroon/wine -- in your bag beforehand. Certainly when it comes to opening convocations or closing banquets. In any case, leave the cartoon character novelty ties at home, guys. I've mentioned this many times before here at Classic Style for the Average Guy, but it bears repeating. And why on earth broadcast the fact that you own no other acceptable neckwear? Once again, Land's End always has decent silk ties for very reasonable prices. Or visit a thrift/charity shop where you can pick up half a dozen in conservative repp stripe and foulard designs (all you'll ever really need in 2016) for about US$10-12. It's not hard.
12) Finally, here's one specifically for you guys. Wear dark socks with dress shoes when attending conferences, gents! Leave the white, or light colored tube socks for the gym, tennis court, or any other time you might don your oversized (and overpriced) bubblegum-colored athletic shoes. Neither of these items says well-educated, informed, and organized thinker when you sit down at the front of a seminar room next to the other presenters on the panel. Instead, charcoal and navy over-the-calf dress socks are a safe bet that almost never look out of place even in a so called business/smart casual settings. And I say this as a wild sock enthusiast myself, but there is no denying that it's all too easy to overdo things here and stray into dangerous style territory with this particular accessory. Keep things simple. Keep things plain. Don't distract from your message. If in doubt, strive for understatement. Now, say it with me. Charcoal and navy over-the-calf dress socks!
There we go! These are just a few bits of advice I would offer to conference attendees everywhere in the professional sphere, but academics, in particular, seem to need guidance when it comes to presenting themselves to the rest of the world. Especially many (but by no means all) of the men. Remember, it's about coming across as confident, capable, and professional. Like it or not, our attire is a part of that picture even if we are otherwise reasonably accomplished in our respective subject areas. People either grasp that, or they don't, I suppose, but it never hurts a person to leave behind the impression of being well-groomed and even polished. In all senses. Now, what about you? The next time you attend a conference, will you be a Goofus, or a Gallant?