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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Teaching and attire

Thanks to Dan Markel and company for the repeat invite to guest-blog for the next few weeks.  I enjoyed the last stint and I look forward to sharing thoughts about law teaching, national security law, constitutional law, and perhaps tenure anxieties, since my tenure file has just closed.

In the meantime, I'm going to open with some thoughts about teaching attire, a subject that makes its periodic rounds of law prof blawgers.  I just bought a couple of suits yesterday from Dillard's (yes, if you guessed that I would be a Men's Wearhouse kind of guy, you would've been correct; but the nearest one is 60 miles away) to add to my rotation for teaching days.  Of course, I only teach classes three days a week, and I had five or six suits, but it had been something like seven years since I last bought a suit, so I felt like I was overdue.

Wearing a suit while teaching is actually a relatively new approach for me, something I started in the spring semester.  Before that, I usually wore a tie and shirt but just khaki slacks, which meant I probably looked more like a grad student than a law prof.  (Indeed, on at least one occasion, I've been mistaken for another 1L during orientation week, which, being a week earlier than the 2L/3L course beginnings, is a week when I'm still wearing T-shirts.)

Some people like wearing suits, but I was never one of those when I was in practice.  I rejoiced when Munger Tolles went to an all-business casual dress code about three months into my time there.  Since I was hidden away in a corner of the building that was rarely visited by partners, it was possible to push the limits of "business casual."  Of course, I was able to rationalize this on the theory that I was more comfortable not wearing a suit, and if I was more comfortable, I would be more efficient.

Maybe that's still right.  So why have I taken to wearing suits to teach?  Some theories:

1. The Misery Index

Some people like working in law firms; more power to them.  I wasn't one of those persons.  (Which, I should point out, was not a reflection on Munger Tolles at all.  I liked the firm and the lawyers I worked with.)  Not having to wear a suit eased the pain of practice.

On the other hand, I like my current job a lot, and therefore I don't need this sort of palliative measure.

2. Image is Everything

One of my senior colleagues says that teaching evaluations go up if you wear a suit.  Since I only tried wearing a suit consistently for one previous semester, my sample size is far too small to draw any meaningful conclusions.  But it does seem plausible that younger-looking faculty members may benefit from a "dressed up" appearance.  At least you don't get mistaken for being another student.

3. It's Empowering

It's weird, but I do find it sort of empowering to be wearing a suit in front of the class.

4. Interview Season (for the students)

Since I've been teaching 2L/3L courses in the fall semester, there comes a point in September when I have students who show up for class in suits for on campus interviews.  I always found it mildly embarrassing if the students were better dressed than I was.

Anyway, I realize this is a subject on which many people can hold varied and reasonable views, and so much of it depends on idiosyncrantic foibles.  Having invested in two new suits, I think I'm likely to keep to this routine for the time being.  But I also have to say that Thursday and Friday sure feel nice.  (And bonus points, next semester, I'm on a Thursday/Friday teaching schedule, which means only suits two days a week!)

Posted by Tung Yin on September 5, 2006 at 03:06 PM in Blogging, Teaching Law | Permalink


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I think it just shows respect for the students...I took the time to dress as I would if I were meeting other businesspeople. Hopefully, this respect would then be returned to me by the students...

Posted by: Delaney J. Kirk | Sep 7, 2006 12:46:30 PM

I, too, have recently tried switching to a more formal attire. I am partial to the Kingsfieldian look, and frequently sport my pocket watch with the chain dangling between pockets of my vest. Nevertheless, one quickly reaches a few conclusions once one opts for the formal aproach.
1. Wearing suits is really expensive. Even if one doesn't use Tom Smith's tailor
and instead goes for the Syms/Men's Wearhouse approach (which has been my style), it costs an awful lot to keep oneself attired nicely. Which is to say nothing of the dry cleaning costs, which are also considerable.
2. Wearing suits is tremendously hot. And not in the sense of making me more attractive -- I mean solely temperature-wise. Even if I can get away with a tie and perhaps a jacket when I'm just reading or dining, it is hard to wear both when one is "performing" in front of the classroom.
3. Wearing suits forces one to confront the fact that his waistline is not where it should be. While I have several pairs of casual pants and have gravitated to the few that fit me, it is harder to avoid the psychological issues of weight-gain when only one of my three suits fits the way it should. Perhaps overall the effect will be positive -- I'll be shamed into making my body fit the suits.
4. I've yet to notice any difference in respect to any matter related to the quality of my teaching or of the respect or deference that the students give me. Being a cold Socratic professor usually makes them fearful enough.

Posted by: Mike Dimino | Sep 5, 2006 9:41:52 PM

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