Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Trouble With Tweed

Brad deLong contempates the sartorial dilemmas of the professorate. He suggests that slovenly-dressed academics may be playing a mixed strategy:
  • The most important signal of expertise that a professor can send is that he or she is so monomaniacally focused and on intellectual task as to be completely outside the normal status hierarchies
  • Thus it is very important that their values and tastes appear visibly different from those of either the striving poor or the smug rich
  • And the best way to do this, from a sartorial point of view, is to make it appear that the professor had better and more important things to think about than mere appearance while getting dressed that morning
    • There is a faction that thinks that the best way to appear to have had better and more important things to think about is to never care at all about appearance--so that whatever one thinks of is automatically more important than how one looks
    • There is another faction that thinks that true unconcern is too risky, and that one must utilize great art in appearing artless in one's dress
      • But systematic artful artlessness is an impossibility
      • Pulling things at random from one's closet may, however, come close

Personally, I like tweed, but as deLong rightly notes:
[T]he traditional tweedy professor male academic clothes are, from a thermodynamic point of view, appropriate only for some British or New England campus without effective central heating.

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