So, I’m sure we all know about the stereotype of the professor in the tweed jacket. Based on a cursory web search, it looks like the stereotype started because tweed was a relatively cheap but warm material, and professors were a relatively poorly paid class of professionals, so they kept wearing them until the elbows wore out and they patched them.

I’m aware that these sorts of things can get a degree of momentum of their own, though, so I was wondering if there was any etiquette in modern academia regarding jackets? I’m a master’s student who is planning on doing a PhD afterwards with the intention of getting into academia; would buying a tweed jacket to try to look professional be viewed as presumptuous or anything?

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    Flip flops and a floral shirt then... :). Still think it will be location dependant are there differences between the coasts... – Solar Mike Apr 14 '19 at 6:49
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    That's Harris Tweed (tm), dude. – Buffy Apr 14 '19 at 11:11
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    I think it wildly depends on the field, too. From my experience in math, you won't see most people wearing a jacket (as in, they dress more casually). The exceptions I can think of are either due to a personal style (usually towards less casual, though there are some people frequently wearing loose shorts and the like) or more strict requirements of managerial positions. One professor I know was wearing a suit every day as long as I had known him up until the point he stopped being the dean --- I think I have not seen him in a suit since. – tomasz Apr 14 '19 at 12:55
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    @Buffy: And I should mention that in my alma mater, this varies between disciplines. I don't think you would catch a professor of law or economics without so much as a dress shirt. – tomasz Apr 14 '19 at 13:16
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    @tomasz, I have a CS colleague who teaches at Technion. I only see him at international meetings, but he generally wore a jacket. Not a full suit, but not sweater and jeans. He is probably older than you, of course. Of course, without a (tweed?) jacket, where do you carry your pipe???? ;-) – Buffy Apr 14 '19 at 13:23

Simple, smart, clean clothes

Stick to conventional office clothing, if you want to convey efficiency. Do not waste money on expensive clothes to impress, but also do not look shabby or unkempt if you can avoid it.

You will (or should be!) judged on the quality of your work, and not on your clothing, unless it is dirty or outstandingly ill-fitting.

I am a professor of medicine. I am glad you are asking your question here, anonymously and you are not one of my students asking me in person: I would rebuke you for wasting time thinking about trivialities, and perhaps even for thinking I am so vain as to spend my every last penny on clothes! I can certainly afford far, far more expensive clothes, car and home than I have, but I don't want to.

When presenting at an external meeting, though, try to look smart. This does not have to be expensive. Wear the clothes your teachers wear in such occasions. If you don't know what they are going to wear (say tomorrow), then make an estimate and "round up". If you are slightly overdressed, nobody will notice. If you are markedly under-dressed, it might attract unfavourable attention.

In my field, the most cost-effective approach for students who don't want to spend much is to have a standard interview suit, and use it for presentations in front of big groups or external audiences, and for interviews. And then stop thinking about it. Work on your research instead.

By the way, my personal approach for myself? I always wear black trousers. They are interchangeable. Any time I need to give a presentation, I use any one of a handful of black suit jackets I keep in various places. It vaguely looks like a suit, in the sense that nobody notices it isn't, and nobody cares. The moment you start to get different coloured suits, you are in for a world of expensive fiddling around where you have to have the particular matching set, and damage to one part of one thing messes up a lot of money in one go. I save my brain cell time for funner things than colour-matching, like StackExchange.

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    What is conventional office clothing and whether this ranks for academics strongly depends on country and field. In my field, you would certainly be overdressed with it, same goes for wearing a suit at a presentation. – Wrzlprmft Apr 14 '19 at 14:17

I don't know if I'd call it an etiquette, but there are certainly different ways to dress in different subfields of disciplines. If you attend an academic conference and notice such things you will see the variety by clique. As for tweed, my partner and I wore it as students (bought second-hand in Edinburgh) and we were mostly viewed as the eccentrics we are, as far as I know. Dressing decently generally shows respect for others, though a few people find it an affront to their class consciousness. Dressing expensively can be seen as distancing from those who can't afford it. The main thing is to be confident that you are presenting yourself as who you really are, so then if there are any concerns you can hopefully laugh them off or explain your dress as a matter of personal taste and/or a concern for general aesthetics.


When I was a masters student (management science) at Imperial College 50 years ago, I chose to wear a suit and tie. Fortunately for me, I must have had other characteristics that compensated for the obvious eccentricity of my dress, so I survived.

I am now a PhD student (statistics) at a leading UK university. I have seen no evidence that any of the academic staff, including full professors, know what a tweed jacket is, let alone would wear a jacket of that or any other kind in their daily work.

From what I know of Australia, I would suppose that it tends to be less formal than the UK.

My conclusion is that you are likely to be overdressed in daily academic life if you wear a jacket. That might or might not be a disadvantage: a friend of mine claimed that his professional career took off because his taste in collars (stiff and high) meant that people remembered him, but he did of course have outstanding professional skills as well.

It all turns on whether you think people will think of you as "that weird guy who wears a jacket all the time" or as "that brilliant guy, you know, the one who wears a jacket."

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    As it happens, I was also a student at Imperial College 50 years ago. A student in suit and tie would have really stood out. – Patricia Shanahan Apr 14 '19 at 23:24

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