Cultivating an academic wardrobe can be a challenge because of the ambiguity involved. The job is variable and you need to respond to the need for formal wear for university events even though some days you could work from home in your pajamas. By far the most common requirement for your work will be a smart-casual wardrobe. You need to look more formal and groomed than your students, formality isn’t required but professionalism is. So, where to start?
The ‘to avoid’ rules. Rules are made to be broken but for the most part, these guidelines will help keep you from making a major faux pas with your outfit. Avoid ripped jeans, slogan tee shirts, clothing with sheer panels or cut out areas, stained or misshapen items, any casual sandals or footwear specifically for exercise. Shorts are almost always inappropriate for men and should be specifically workwear shorts for a woman. If the issue is the heat, then consider pale colours and light fabrics like linen to stay comfortable. Try to avoid anything overly revealing, whether you are a man undoing too many buttons on his shirt (more than two is definitely too many) or a woman wearing a skirt that is too short. It is prudent to make sure that before you leave the house, your clothes don’t ride up or shift and that you can make your normal movements in them.
Some safe suggestions for outfits include well-fitted chinos or slacks with a casual shirt or blouse and a pullover or sweater depending on the weather. Stick to inoffensive colours like navy blue, greens, greys, and pastels or solid colours like red but give lime green, bright orange, and vivid purple a wide berth. You can also consider wearing a pair of clean-cut jeans with a brogue, loafer or ballet flat and a shirt. As long as your shoes and your top half are still on the conservative side, the jeans will just keep the look modern and comfortable.
Female academics also have the option of semi-formal jersey dresses and tops which have the great advantage of not needing to be pressed before work. These are a great choice but go for a subdued print or solid colour and make sure your tights or pantyhose have no rips or ladders. Separates give you more options to mix and match however and you can vary the level of formality in your outfits more easily.
Very high heels and other flamboyant shoes such as Cuban heels or cowboy boots can be a bit over the top for a work setting so are best avoided in a professional context.
Some prints are welcome in a smart-casual wardrobe. A low key striped shirt or a small polka dot or floral pattern is fine. A little personality is welcome in an outfit but do try to be a complement to your work as opposed to a distraction from it.