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I'm visiting a German university (in one of the big cities) for a couple of days for the purpose of discussing a postdoc for myself. I work in maths.

I'm supposed to give a talk on one day for a research seminar and discuss with a potential advisor the next day.

Should I wear a suit for either of these events? I would have said no, but someone has told me that the Germans look down on "casual" clothes.

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    While the generic Herr Professor in Germany is traditionally more formal than one in, say, the U.S., you see few suits in math departments. So from that angle, I don't think it would be necessary. However, I find it a good idea always to dress up when presenting yourself for a job. If your potential supervisor shows up in shorts, sandals, and t shirt, I'd just use the opportunity for a little humorous remark, along the lines of "And here I thought I should, for once, wear a suit, no matter the weather..." – gnometorule Jun 22 '16 at 16:37
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    German engineer here... I don't recall ever seeing a Math professor in a suit either. Would suggest a shirt in a neutral color and a pair of good pants that doesn't have the "used look". That should look reasonably professional and always worked for me, at least so far. – Niko Jun 22 '16 at 17:13
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    Definitely not necessary, and even somewhat distracting. If you want to look smart, wear jeans (without holes), a shirt (with collar, bonus points if it's ironed) and decent shoes (i.e., not dirty sneakers, bonus points for leather). No tie. In all departments I'm familiar with, this already counts as dressing up for all but the most senior faculty (although there might be exceptions in financial maths). – Christian Clason Jun 22 '16 at 17:15
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    Can some of you please turn your comments into answers? I'd like to vote them up. – jakebeal Jun 22 '16 at 18:51
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Speaking as a math professor in Germany, a suit is definitely not necessary, and might even be seen as overdoing it. (Caveat: things might be different in financial mathematics.) Most of my colleagues never wear a suit except for a few very formal occasions (meetings with the top administration, hearings for grants or evaluations, festive affairs).

In particular, if you are visiting for a job interview, they want to get a feel of how it would be to have you as a colleague -- if you come across as too stiff, that might not be in your interest. If you want to, you can wear a suit for your talk; nobody would complain, but you might get some amused smirks ("He's really keen on this job, isn't he?"). A research seminar of a group is usually a rather informal event (compared to, say, a faculty colloquium).

Of course, the main thing is that you feel comfortable, but if you're unsure what to wear, go "smart casual":

  • neutral jeans (no holes, not too baggy/tight) in blue or black (or chinos, if you prefer; jeans seem to be more common in Germany, though),

  • a nice dress shirt (i.e., with a collar, ideally ironed),

  • decent shoes (i.e., no dirty worn-out sneakers); for extra-smart, wear leather shoes,

  • no tie.

This will be appropriate for any occasion during your visit, and be seen (by those who look for such things) as making enough of an effort to avoid distracting (by being either under- or over-dressed).

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