Dress Codes

Just time for a very quick one before I scoot off to London for this month’s Royal Astronomical Society meeting (and subsequent Club dinner).

Today is the last day of “Revision Week” so I had a two-hour revision class this morning. I gave my final proper lecture at Cardiff University before Christmas, in fact, but this morning was the last teaching of any sort I’ll be doing here before I move to Sussex at the end of the month. If any of the students taking The Physics of Fields and Flows happens to read this, then I wish them the best of luck in next week’s examination!

I won’t be able to mark the scripts (and thus find out how well they’ve all done) until I return from a trip to Brighton next week to carry out interviews for three lectureships in astronomy at Sussex recently advertised. I’m looking forward to that, but I think the three days will be just as gruelling for the panel as for the candidates.

There were some sarcastic comments at the start of today’s class about the fact that I was wearing a suit and tie. It reminded me of an old joke: “Q: What do you call a ‹insert name of institution> graduate who’s wearing a suit? A: The Accused.” I think I can guess which institution most Cardiff students would pick as the butt of that one.

In fact the reason I’m wearing a suit today is that there’s a dress code for the RAS Club, which dines at the Athenaeum. It’s not very strict, actually, just jacket-and-tie, but I usually dust off one of my suits for the occasion as I don’t mind dressing up now and again. The only other clubs I’ve been to that operate a dress code have been very different, but I’ll draw a hasty veil over that.

The RAS Club isn’t particularly posh, actually, nor is it as stuffy as people seem to think. This evening is the Parish Dinner at which the Club elects new members. It’s nice to see quite a few youngsters among the candidates, but the election procedure is so dotty it’s impossible to predict who will get in!

Coincidentally, I got an email about the dress code for next week’s interviews. “Smart casual”, apparently. Since I don’t really know what that means I think I’ll wear a suit, which presumably most of the male candidates will too.

It always seems to me rather peculiar, this thing of dressing up for interviews. The default style of dress for academics is “scruffy”, so it’s a bit odd that we all seem to pretend that it’s otherwise for interviews. I suppose it’s just to emphasize that it’s a formal occasion from the point of view of the interview panel, and to show that the candidates are taking it seriously. I don’t really pay much attention to what interviewees wear, other than that if they look like they’ve just been dragged through a hedge one might infer that they’re  a bit too disorganized even to be a member of the academic staff at a University or that they’re not really putting enough effort into the whole thing.

On the other hand, some people feel so uncomfortable in anything other than jeans and a T-shirt that putting on a suit would either be an unbearable ordeal for them or conflict with their self-image in some fundamental way. Neither of these are intended, so if that’s going to be the case for you, just dress as you normally do (but preferably with something reasonably clean).

This is the time of year that many undergraduate students are putting in their applications for PhD places too. I sometimes get asked (and did yesterday, in fact) whether a (male) candidate for a PhD place should wear a suit and tie for the interview. Having conducted interview days for many years at a number of different institutions, my experience is that a small proportion dress formally for PhD interviews than for job interviews. My advice to students asking about this is just to say that they should try to look reasonably presentable, but suit–and-tie are definitely not compulsory. It’s unlikely the staff interviewing you will dress formally, actually…

Anyway, my views may well differ from those of  my readers so here’s a poll.

I realise this post is written from a male perspective, as women’s clothes are a mystery to me. I hope someone can explain through the comments box what the equivalent categories are for female persons?  At least women are spared the choice of whether or not to wear a tie. Is there an equivalent quandary?

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30 Responses to “Dress Codes”

  1. Your poll doesn’t make it clear whether you’re asking from the perspective of a panel member or a candidate!

    As a panel member I always put on a jacket and tie so that if any male candidates have done the same they won’t feel horribly overdressed. Same sort of thing with PhD vivas.

    • telescoper Says:

      Quite right. I’ve now updated it.

      Might wearing a jacket and tie make some other candidates feel underdressed?

  2. I usually wear a suit for any interview (even for shelf-stacking at Tesco way back when). I don’t think there’s any requirement for this, but I do feel a bit more comfortable dressed formally when under scrutiny.

  3. Karen Masters Says:

    It’s even more complicated for women…. sure there’s a AAS Women’s blog post about it somewhere.

  4. George Jones Says:

    I voted “Smart casual”, although I am hesitant to label this as “The correct way”. At interviews I have had, I always wore reasonable trousers (no jeans), reasonable shoes (no trainers), shirt, tie.

  5. Yes, agree very complicated for women. Never knew what we were supposed to wear for anything. Now just wear black trousers and a completely plain top to everything, possibly with a black jacket (not leather!). Probably perceived as v boring but is comfortable and doesn’t require a lot of decision-making in the mornings (or in the shops)!

    • “Never knew what we were supposed to wear for anything.”

      I parsed that as “Never knew that we were supposed to wear anything.” Depending on the job, that might be appropriate. 🙂

      I’ve told this story before, probably here, but it’s worth telling again. Once at a Colston Symposium, the invitation for the conference dinner said “dinner jacket”. I didn’t have one. I didn’t know what a dinner jacket is (I’m still not completely sure). I didn’t say anything, though. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one uncomfortable, as on the day of the dinner between the talks Michael Berry announced that any dress would be fine and explained the invitation by the fact that “dinner jacket” is just the default if it is not white tie. 😐 (By the way, the conference dinner was aboard the Great Britain.) I was relieved when Sir Michael showed up at the conference dinner in jeans and a knitted pullover sweater.

      Apparently Prince Charles has an employee whose only job is to take care of the prince’s clothing and advise him on matters of dress.

      • telescoper Says:

        I should also point out in case it’s not obvious that if the invitation says “black tie” a black tie is not all you’re supposed to wear..

      • Bryn Jones Says:

        Yes, I’ve often made that mistake.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      It’s “tuxedo” to you Phillip – what Peter is wearing in the pic at top right of his blog frontpage.

      • I’m just as uncertain about tuxedos as well. I realize they are both words for the same thing (UK and US English), but I am not even sure I would know one if I saw one, which sometimes helps for things one is uncertain about. I can spot the difference between formal and casual, but that’s about it. 😐

    • My impression is that women’s clothing choices live in a multidimensional space, unlike men’s. If you’re a man, there’s pretty much one axis from informal to formal, and if you’re somewhere near the right point on that axis, you’re fine. But for women, there seem to be extra degrees of freedom so that, even if you’ve got the formality level right, you can still not be dressed properly.

  6. Since moving to London, I’ve discovered this website – http://www.dresscodeguide.com – to be helpful for translating some of the dress codes that people request for social events. Very old school.

    Suit and tie always felt like overkill for academic interviews, but smart jacket and shirt with smart shoes seems about right.

    • Obviously broken link above (well, the link works, but only the name should anchor it). Maybe Peter can fix it.

      The non-English Wikipedia pages (not just the Czech one) have more information on Franz.

    • Bryn Jones Says:

      There was a lot of political controversy here about 30 years ago after a senior politician – the Leader of the Opposition – attended the annual remembrance ceremony in London for those killed in wars dressed in a coat that was considered too scruffy. The coat is now in a museum too.

      Admittedly, it didn’t help that he stood next to Thatcher dressed very formally all in black.

  7. We had a candidate show up for a faculty job dressed in a grubby sweatshirt and sneakers (trainers to you). Presumably he also had trousers, although I don’t remember what they were like. The physics department couldn’t care less what he was wearing, but we knew that the higher-up administrators he’d be meeting with would care. I got the job of diplomatically suggesting to him that he put on something nicer before meeting with the dean, and fortunately he (or, more likely, his wife) had put a proper shirt and tie in his luggage before he came.

  8. Robert Kirshner Says:

    Instructions for a Stockholm event suggested a business suit and short dress. This seemed like one item too many.

    • telescoper Says:

      Having been to a Stockholm event myself, I was more confused by the instruction “tiaras may be worn”, which seemed to clash with my white tie and subfusque..

  9. Anton Garrett Says:

    Very strange idea, the tie…

  10. Bryn Jones Says:

    I do feel that the audience at the Ordinary Meetings of the Royal Astronomical Society tends to dress up. There are lots of suits and ties, very unlike the dress found in university departments, or the dress in the RAS Discussion Meetings earlier in the day. Presumably one reason is because of the presence of members of the Astronomical Freemasonry RAS Dining Club, who will go off to some posh club for a grand meal later in the evening.

    I tend to wear a jacket for RAS Ordinary Meetings just to fit in a bit.

  11. One of the things I miss the most about Cardiff is the varsity rivalry with Swansea.

    Gimme an E, gimme an E, gimme a U,
    What do you get?

    Into Swansea University.

  12. Chris Chaloner Says:

    The thing about wearing a suit is that it is never unacceptable! If everybody else is wearing one then you fit in, and even if the interview panel is dressed in conventional academic scruffy, they won’t object to a suit. So, wearing a suit never loses marks, whereas not doing so _may_ lose marks.

    • biologystudent Says:

      Thank you! I have an interview tomorrow and was getting increasingly worried reading all these comments, but of course you are right! I will wear a suit, at least they know I am taking it seriously!

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