What should a male and female couple of professors wear for teaching undergraduate and graduate psychology courses at a small Midwestern Univ.? Both are in their 30's. (I notice you have written nothing about academic business wear -- at least not that I can find.)

Academic business wear is customarily in line with the standards of General Business and Business Casual dress policies. Except for the absent-minded professor or brilliant scientist stereotypes, disheveled looks are not acceptable today in most academic circles. Teaching, on the college level, is one of the highest professions and should be treated and embraced with the same respect as executives and upper management of the corporate arena.

The trap that many professors fall into is that their minds, their intelligence, is all that matters, their image does not. Communication research reveals a different truth that is particularly relevant to professors, as part of the job is speaking to their students as an authoritative agent on a particular subject. The communication statistics, used by Stamford University, tell us that the words we use are only 7% of a spoken communication. The tone (pitch, timbre, volume, tempo, emotion, etc.) is 38%, with the “physical/visual” aspect being 55% of the spoken communication. If the speaker has a distracting or inappropriate image, the impact of his or her words can actually drop below 7% because the audience is not listening well. Instead, they are focusing on the distraction or inappropriate attire. On the other hand, when a speaker is attractively groomed and dressed appropriately, the impact of the words increases because it’s easier for the audience to fully engage.

Personal style and body type play an important role in individual wardrobe choices. With that, it is difficult to prescribe precisely what a particular man or woman should wear when teaching psychology on the undergraduate or graduate level. I suggest that you read my book, Causal Power, as it has many illustrations and photographs showing appropriate attire for professors. Much of the sabotage section would also apply. In addition, there is a real-life “before and after” case study regarding the career of a professor. Names were changed to protect the identity of all case study participants.

Keep in mind that some campuses and departments are more casual than others are. Even when ultra casual attire is encouraged, it remains important that professors be neatly groomed and wear clothing in mint condition. It’s advisable for professors to dress up a bit for department meetings and other events where the university officials (Presidents, Deans, Chancellors, etc.) or upper administration are present.

Best of luck to you,
Sherry Maysonave


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