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Thread: Graduate student style

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    Graduate student style

    Hi everyone,

    I recently moved to the southeast US to begin a graduate program in mathematics. In general, mathematicians tend to dress quite casually. The standard among other grad students seems to be "on days I teach, I try to wear pants sometimes," while the tenured faculty are often in shorts and t-shirts. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that, but it's a bit different from how I like to dress. In general, my style leans towards chambray button ups, tucked into jeans or chinos, with Converse chucks or casual wingtips. In the winter, I'll add a sweater or sport coat, maybe with wool pants and boots.

    Two problems:

    1) It's hot. And humid. The formula above worked fine most of the time when I was living in New England, but now I can't walk more than a few minutes without sweating through my clothes. My office is quite cold, so some days it's not a big issue, but if I know I'll have to be outside any time after 11am, I just wear shorts and a t-shirt for the day.

    2) I don't want to stick out like too much of a sore thumb. In college I didn't mind dressing differently than most other students, and after a while, people stopped taking notice. But then I was just another undergrad roaming the campus - now I'm employed by the department and work in the office every day. It's my first time working in an office setting, and I feel obligated to fit in to some extent. I have started wearing my shirts untucked all the time and have been wearing sneakers almost exclusively, but I'd like to figure out a way to rotate in some of my nicer shoes.

    So Threads, any thoughts on how to fit in while not relinquishing my personal style? All while staying cool? Has anyone else moved to a new office (or climate) where the prevailing dress norms were considerably different than what you were used to? What did you do?

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    I spent way too much time as a grad student, in physics dept and grad program in med school (long story). I think you'll still be able to keep your sense of style even in the hotter climate with nice tailored shorts, polo shirts and some suede derbys. I might be biased as this combo was essentially my daily uniform over the summer time. cotton linen trousers are a godsend as well if you need to step up a notch. These items won't make you stick out too much but you certainly wont disappear among with the rest either. You will easily find undergrads dressed just as nicely as well. Being no more than just a half step in formality above your students when TAing is a good subtle way to establish your authority yet not being too un-approachable.
    Side note: I honestly think dressing significantly better than your or other PIs around the dept is kind of awkward. People will say 'you do you' or 'dress or the job you want', but lets be honest, grad school is not where you do this. good luck in grad school.

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    My recommendation is that you dress however you want to dress.

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    Go a bit better than the slob norm. Chinos or dark wash jeans, polos or henleys or linen shirts, maybe some suede unlined chukkas.

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    Heat is a good excuse for the casual dress, but Southerners used to be able to dress nicely while accommodating the climate's demands.

    @kongmw suggests one approach, which is take the styles everyone else is wearing and wear a more polished version.

    I would propose largely keeping your usual designs, but switching fabrics and colours. Linen anything and its inevitable rumples are invariably more casual than the same garment in cotton or wool. Try lightweight Oxford cloth, which breathes wonderfully well due to its open weave, or seersucker with its air-flow promoting ribbing. Move from the dark colours to light, and incorporate more actual colour variety; again, it's a more casual version of what you're comfortable wearing. The added benefit is that such pieces will integrate into your existing wardrobe more easily than an entirely different style.

    That said, fit and fabric condition will be key. A t-shirt and shorts can be a slob's outfit, or sharply casual, depending on the details. Though I'd much prefer a polo or Henley over a plain tee...
    Last edited by Galcobar; September 9th, 2018 at 04:29 PM.

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    Thanks for the great responses so far!

    @kongmw thanks for the well wishes and suggestions. I definitely plan on dressing appropriately for TAing and teaching. It's actually something I'm really looking forward to (and a handy excuse in case anyone asks why my shirt is tucked in or something). But yeah, I don't want to feel too out of step with faculty in terms of appearance. Math is generally less hierarchical (there isn't really a PI at the head of a lab, as in the other sciences) so I don't foresee this becoming much of an issue, but I do still want to feel comfortable socially.

    @Hebrew Barrister I have considered picking up some suede chukkas. Actually found a pair of unlined sand suede ones at the thrift store, but they had a bright red sole I didn't particularly care for.

    @Galcobar thanks for the suggestions! Looking at my closet, it is rather monochromatic. Nearly all of my shirts are blue and all of my pants are blue, grey, or brown. I only just added a pair of olive khaki jeans. I'll try to look for some lighter colors in lighter weaves and see what I like.

    Side note: three of you mentioned polos, of which I own none. I still associate them frat boys in boat shoes, and the uniforms of my high school band. I've started to change my mind, between some posts here and a professor who had a couple really well fitting ones, but I have yet to try one. I've also considered henleys, but every time I try one on, all I can think of is Dexter in his kill shirt.
    Last edited by christophe; September 9th, 2018 at 12:19 PM. Reason: fix spacing

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    For suede chukkas, I highly recommend the astorflex chukkas. Supremely comfortable, much higher quality than Clark's. That said, if budget is a big concern, just look for Clark's on Amazon for $50, and order half a size down from your usual.

    A well fitting polo looks great. The best one I own is from Spier and and Mackay. It is very slim fitting, nice quality, has a collar that never gets floppy.

    As far as Dexter's Henley, I can't help you get over that one. However, they look much better than tshirts and often cost about the same. My favorite are actually the jcrew mercantile. They are very flattering on me and are like $15 when on sale.

    By the way, confidence is paramount. You can wear just about anything if you pull it off confidently. I am so used to wearing a blazer for work that I can confidently wear one anywhere and nobody says anything or looks at me oddly.

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    Quote Originally Posted by christophe View Post
    Hi everyone,

    . . . while the tenured faculty are often in shorts and t-shirts.
    Begin short rant--And educators wonder why people are losing respect for their profession? People treat me differently when I dress professionally. Maybe they should learn a lesson about human nature and dress like professionals instead of So.Cal. skateboarders--End short rant.

    If I had to wear shorts to work, I'd go with some sort of slim fit chino shorts and a short sleeve fitted cotton shirt--either button front or polo. I'd make sure the shirts are short enough to give me the untucked option. That's what I wear to a pool party or a daytime walk around a beach town--with slip on sneakers and no-show socks.


    For work, I'd try to dress the look up a little bit with suede loafers and no-show socks. Or maybe a nice pair of leather sneakers. I'd keep a decent cardigan in my office in the event I get too cold.

    To me, that is a dressed up look that isn't so far above the bums you work with that you'll alienate them, but will make a good impression. It would also keep me fairly happy when I look in the mirror.

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    I would second the recommendation for cotton/linen pants if you plan on staying away from shorts. The wrinkles kelp make them more casual. Most Jeans or chinos have a weave and weight that will make you melt in hot, humid climates. Skipping socks (or wearing no-shows) will also help if you are adamant about wearing pants. I don’t have the option of shorts, so these are some of my strategies. (I reside in Houston and have lived in North and Central Florida as well)

    Oh, and underwear choice is also key. Cotton underwear gets soaked and retains too much heat. I have switched to Uniqlo Airism Mesh and it has made a world of difference.

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    When I was a graduate student I didn't have much money for clothing. I wore mostly jeans (sometimes shorts if it was warm) to the library, etc. -- this was in Philly. But when I was in class or teaching I always wore a collared shirt and a tie -- I had one sport coat. Something one of my professors told me always stuck with me: "If you dress like you take the material seriously then your students will take it seriously." That said, I think there's plenty of room for personal style. Above all, I think folks in the academy (and outside of it), should dress in an age-appropriate manner. We get a bad rap as it is.

    When I moved west to take my first teaching job in Colorado I got a lot of comments from colleagues about my "formal" dress: suits, ties, etc. I finally had a real salary, and I liked dressing well. Some of my colleagues (all with PhDs) would dress like they were going to sleep on the beach: ratty shorts or cut-offs, t-shirts, etc. That's just not my style. So even though the culture here is rather casual (heck, most of Colorado is pretty casual), that doesn't mean I'm going to change my personal style. I like the way I dress. When it's warm I might wear linen trousers but NEVER shorts. When I see a professor wearing shorts to teach or attend a conference I die a little inside. IMHO, that person isn't even trying. And no one wants to see my legs. Graphic t-shirt? Please, are you still an an undergrad?

    The point is: dress in a way that makes you feel comfortable and confident (both indoors and out), but that fits with your age, title, and position.

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