“If my students wonder, when I’m up there teaching, if I’m looking at them and judging them, the answer is ‘Yes, I am judging what you’re wearing,’ ” said Richard Nokes, associate professor of English.
While Troy University does not have a specific dress code for any of its academic departments, most professors make the effort to appear in a professional style while teaching, even if it may not be their first choice of what to wear.
Kenneth LaBrant, director of the university’s honors program and associate professor of Spanish, said he goes from his sharp business formal and business casual ensembles to beachwear whenever he’s heading to hang out with his family.
“Some of the students can’t recognize me when I’m in a more casual attire,” LaBrant said.
Nokes said he changes out of his signature bow tie and tweed jacket look into Hawaii shirts whenever he’s home.
Kenyon Holder, art history lecturer, said she switches from her elegant feminine business casuals to “jeans all the way” whenever she’s away from work.
The reason faculty go for professional looks, according to Holder, is because they believe that their image influences the way students interact with them.
“If you present a professional image, you’ll be respected,” Holder said.
“You need to dress in a way that gives you authority,” Nokes said. “People look at you, and they can see the authority.”
On the other hand, LaBrant said it was more of a matter of personality.
Carl Vollrath, professor of music, said that he believed that what professors wear should not distract from what they teach.
“I do believe what you wear affects the class,” Vollrath said. “If I wear a bright colored tie, most of the students will only have eyes focused on the tie rather than the board or what I’m saying.”
Students, on their part, often wear casual clothing styles to class, which creates a sharp contrast between the lecturer and the students.
“Sometimes, I see some students dressed like they’re going out on a Saturday night wearing 5-inch heels, and it just doesn’t look very comfortable, but again I think a certain amount of freedom is necessary,” Holder said.
LaBrant and Holder both said that the students can wear anything they find comfortable as long as they’re performing well in class. Most professors agreed that a business casual look would be a benefit to the students.
“I think a business casual would be great because it would signal to yourself that you’re taking this (class) seriously,” Nokes said.
Students also benefit from dressing up for class because while some professors, including Vollrath, say it would be inappropriate to judge students’ dress styles, some do, nevertheless.
Nokes said that students who come to class with an “I don’t want to be here; I barely rolled out of bed” look are not the ones who do well in class.
“Those are students that are convincing themselves that they sort of stayed up all night studying when, in fact, they haven’t studied the whole time. They’re just thinking about studying and telling their friends they’re studying.”
Nokes also said that the oversized T-shirts and temple shorts, salmon-colored shorts and camel shorts have to go.
“I hate them so much!” Nokes said about the oversized T-shirt and shorts look.
“They have been the most basic — and I say basic in the most derogatory sense — the basic uniform for almost a decade now, and it is horrible and terrible in every way. It looked terrible when it first came into fashion, and it has only gotten worse.”
The professional style itself has shifted toward being more casual in the last decades, according to LaBrant.
“In my 20 years in this university, I’ve seen the way professors dress going from formal to a more casual outfit,” LaBrant said.
Holder said the shift was more evident in the way younger professors dress, with some of them sporting skinny jeans.
In defense of the more casual dress code, Priya Menon, associate professor of English, said that, since her primary goal was teaching and research, the clothes should be comfortable enough not to interfere with either of them.
In the same vein, students also say they pick their clothes for comfort and that what they wear should not interfere with their learning.
“It shouldn’t be distracting you anyway, you know,” said Allison Luna, a sophomore biology major from Crestview, Florida. “You’re there to learn. I don’t think any clothes should be able to distract you.”
The oversized T-shirt and shorts look is the expression of students’ desire for comfort during the day, according to Lauren Underwood, a junior art education major from Pelham.
Some students actually appreciate it when professors wear more casual clothes.
“It gets a more casual, comfortable atmosphere going,” said Kathryn Curry, a senior fine arts major from Saint Simons Island, Georgia. “I think college is about finding out who you are, and I feel like this is one of the only times when you can fully express yourselves without having to worry about a professional career.”
Menon delivered the final conclusion on the comfort versus image issue.
“I think that any item that interferes with a teacher’s ability to teach and a student’s ability to learn in a classroom is inappropriate,” Menon said.