How to Dress for an Academic Conference

This combined annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature starts this evening. As I lay in my Baltimore hotel bed this morning, thinking about what to wear for the day, my mind kept going back to an essay read yesterday, “Conference Chic, or, How to Dress like an Anthropologist.”

Anthropology  . . . religious studies . . . there is about a 90-percent overlap, sartorially if not methodologically.

Carole McGranhan’s piece is full of great quotes:

As one male professor offered, “To my eyes, for the ladies, it is all about the boots/shoes. The guys, it is all about the jacket.”

There are subtle clues about class and region. People pretend to want to hide upper class, but want others to notice their expensive shoes and other articles.

“The only place that scarves are more popular than at an anthropology conference was at an airline hostess convention in the 1970s.”

“I’m also ambivalent about the scarf–they’re so cliché for anthropologists, but they are warm and pretty and useful and I have a lot of them, so… it will be a game time decision.”

“As a biocultural anthropologist is it appropriate for me to wear scarves?”

Why else expect accessories to do all our stylish heavy lifting, conveying cosmopolitaneity, political consciousness, and personal good taste at once? Such familiar, modernist anxieties lurk under our carefully chosen scarves and jackets, worrying that by acknowledging the importance of surfaces we are therefore superficial, which must mean we aren’t intelligent. The bigger the earrings, the smaller the brain, so we seem to think.

Now I must critically re-examine what I packed. Today: blue jeans with well-polished low boots.

2 thoughts on “How to Dress for an Academic Conference

  1. A week or two ago, a fellow Medieval archaeologist and I were musing over very similar questions within our own discipline. Why is it that Medievalists – at least in Britain – have such a tendency towards wearing tweed ? And similarly, why is there a tendency among archaeologists of later prehistory to be perpetually scruffy, even when presenting at conferences ? It would actually be an interesting and worthwhile research question to explore these academic clothing conventions, although it wouldn’t surprise me if somebody had actually already done it.

    And it then of course begs the question, is there an unofficial dress code that seems to pervade the community of Pagan studies scholars ?

    1. Um, scarves?

      Aside from a tendency to a little more silver jewelry than average, I would say that the practicing-Pagan scholars blend into the academic masses fairly well.

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