“Skirting” Academia: The Return of Peacockery*?

* All images used with the kind permission of Fashion For Nerds

In recent years, blogging became increasingly popular all over the world (well, predominantly, but not exclusively, all over its European and North-American parts), exploding traditional ideas of news reporting, journalism, literature – and challenging the public-private divide.   Blogs exist in a quasi-public environment which exposes thoughts and images that would formerly have remained tucked away in heads, diaries, photoalbums, and closets.  Blog contents are both abundant and varied, yet more frequently thin, rather than profound: as a famous anonymous quote goes, ‘never before have so many people with so little to say said so much to so few.’

Blogs devoted to food, fashion, handicraft, hobbies, pets et al., have one thing in common: their writers and readers indulge in pretty things.  They are an epitome of conspicuous consumption (Baudrillard): they skirt (pun intended) the surface of meaning, and hail the meaning of surface – literally – by endorsing the value of prettiness as a reason for blogging.  In the sea of blogs about fashion, there is a small niche of blogs which mix two stereotypically incongruent fields: academia and fashion.

Fashion as transformative performance

It is worth noting that, in one sense, the content of these blogs is strictly non-academic.  They focus entirely on the visual and material “package” with which academic jobs seem to be associated.  The multitude of successful blogs that share a very similar language and imagery suggests that the importance of this particular material package is accepted by more than just the blogs’ authors.  In another sense, however, these blogs are academicbut not scientific. The adjective academic – devoid of discipline specification – can, in fact, serve, as an umbrella term for the everyday life (Goffman) that has come to surround work in academic institutions; or, as other sociologists put it, the ways in which academic work is grounded and embodied. In the blogging tradition of exposing all that is private, it is only logical that problem of clothes worn by academics deserves its niche on the blogging market.

The academic fashion genre opens up many potentially sociological questions. Are blogs about ‘fashion and academia’ actually blogs about academic fashion; fashion in academia; fashion which is out of, but should be in, academia; fashion and appearance as an integral part of today’s academia; fashion as a wish or as reflected by some people working in academic jobs?

The magical... and its traces in the mundane.

Are these blogs exploiting fantasies, filling up a void (in the lives of contemporary academics, or in fashion?),  promoting a certain lifestyle (and affirming the “po-mo” necessity of having one), mixing the unmixable, affirming (or breaking?) gender stereotypes? Are they a quest for consumption that individualises its consumer, a fight against the tendency to turn into “mass produced”, grey-collar academic workers? Are they outlets for the shy, earning tools for the enterprising (many of these blogs use banner advertisement as a tool for earning money), or just one of the plethora of all possible quasi-work, quasi-rest, past-times for people employed in academic jobs?

As I am no specialist in either gender studies, leisure, or fashion, I shall leave my new discovery for you to browse, judge and reflect on – and, hopefully, comment!

Below is but a short selection of blogs about fashion and academia:

Academic Cinderella

Fashion for nerds ‘s statement reveals the stereotype: its author works “in an environment where fashion takes a back seat to… well, everything. The blog is an outlet for creative and expressive impulses, redirecting them away from of the author’s usual 9-5 “habitat” : “Since stylish clothing in a company full of scientists is a bit like pearls before swine, I decided to create this blog, where perhaps my daily efforts can be more thoroughly appreciated”

Fashionable academics are a group of co-authors, who write their blog with the conviction that “Accessorizing and knowing how to dress with style, in addition to researching, writing articles, and being good teachers, help to make for a balanced life”

The authors of Academichic introduce themselves as “a consortium of feminist academics, in the Midwest and Northeast, on a crusade against the ill-fitting polyester suit of academic yore.”

The glamorousgradstudent introduces herself as a “scientist and PhD student with a penchant for pretty things”.

Whatwouldanerdwear is “an archive of grad student style” created by a “bike-riding bookworm”.

* “The Return of Peacockery” is a title of a post on fashionableacademics.blogspot.com

Categories: Higher Education, The Idle Ethnographer

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