Friday, August 14, 2009

Sharp Dressed Man

My first teaching job, other than grad student gigs, was a course in world religions at Northern Arizona University in 1987, when I was thirty. At the time, Bill Cosby’s show was popular--a cute family in designer clothes having heartwarming encounters each episode. I liked Cosby’s striking sweaters and adopted that look for my teaching. How funny when my first student evaluations included comments like “Love his sweaters!” and “He’s a great dresser!” I joked that thankfully no one wrote, He can't teach worth a damn but he dresses sharp!

Old clothes finally get pitched or go to GoodWill, but I recall a couple of favorite outfits. I had a striking black, white, and purple sweater that I found at an Amarillo mall during a cross-country drive, and also an expensive, hand-wash-only sweater with Native designs, a spurge at the Flagstaff mall thanks to some holiday money. My infant daughter puked down the back of that one.

I felt good about myself, for the most part. At the time I was ABD, “all but dissertation.” My doctoral program had painful moments common to many. I’d worked in a satisfying job between my masters and doctoral programs, and I disliked returning to the indignities of being a student. My new wife, also pursuing her Ph.D., was even more professionally established. I felt upset at her similar experiences on campus, although she herself shrugs off such things well. When we moved West in 1987, I loved the chance to start fresh. Not only did I feel treated more positively but I was also helping students and encouraging them in their careers.

I wouldn’t exactly credit Bill Cosby with my new-found confidence, and I’m hardly the type who dresses up to go to the grocery. But I did dress pretty well thereafter in professional contexts. If I don’t wear a suit I’ll wear a nice sweater or blazer, usually with a nice tie. A friend got into the habit of suit-wearing when he worked for a software company, and when he went to grad school he still wore suits because of the way people treated him. He became accustomed to the respect.

Looking nice requires the ongoing replacement of one’s wardrobe. We gain weight (surely not me!) and can't fit into previous suits. Styles become outdated. The things I wore in 1987 would probably look, well, very Eighties-ish. Just the other day I bought two new suits, on sale at Macy's, so I can look my best for new adventures in our new location. Hopefully I'll still work toward the same goals as 1987: to teach and encourage students.
As an aside, this picture of my parents and me represents good fashion taste circa 1977.

No comments:

Post a Comment