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Lecture looks: Professors share their unwritten rules of classroom fashion

The Chronicle spoke to some professors who teach large lecture courses to get the rundown on lecture fashion musts, faux pas and everything in between.

DO have some fun with your wardrobe

It's always a plus to have some fun with your wardrobe, whether it’s with bowties, graphic tees, or colorful pants.

Brian Hare, associate evolutionary anthropology professor, said he sometimes wears a Batman belt and orange pants to lecture.

"I think it communicates that I'm taking the class serious, but we're still having fun," he added.

Similarly, Ahmad Hariri, professor of psychology and neuroscience, enjoys jazzing things up sometimes with brightly colored shoe soles—on Wednesday, they were neon green.

DO spice things up with your footwear

Fun shoes can make a statement. 

“If you want to do something fun… I think shoes and socks are the first place men stop,” Hariri said.

It's safe to say he has a large variety of shoes to pick from—he was slightly embarrassed to say he can almost make it through an entire semester without wearing the same pair of shoes twice.

Christopher Roy, associate professor of chemistry and education, also spices things up with some funky socks. Although he’s generally “a jeans and a t-shirt kind of guy,” he will occasionally dress his outfit up with nice shoes. 

Hariri buys many of his dressier shoes from a Cole Haans line that have Nike soles, providing the perfect balance of fashion and comfort—perfect for the strain of 75 minute lectures and walking around campus.

Sarah Bermeo, associate professor of public policy, prefers less comfortable shoes. 

“I like really high heels... usually of the stiletto variety,” she said.

She will change out of her heels if she has to quickly get across campus, but she'll immediately put them back on just because she likes them. 

DON’T, unless you're absolutely sweltering, wear shorts

Most professors spoke of wearing shorts to lecture as a major faux pas, but given the recent heat and humidity that has hit Durham, some have broken their longstanding rule. 

"I feel a little guilty because for the very first time in almost ten years, the second day of class, because the first day was miserable, I wore shorts," Hariri said. 

Hare faces a similar conundrum every spring. 

“Can I wear shorts to lecture or not?” he asks himself every morning. Most of the time ,he decides against it, but he has given in to the heat a few times. Like Hariri, he feels a little guilty when he wears them.

Roy, on the other hand, had no qualms about wearing shorts during his time teaching at the Duke Marine Lab this past summer.

DO dress for the weather 

Just as the scorching heat of the summer sometimes drives some professors to wear shorts, the winter also forces them to mix up their wardrobe. It’s important to stay warm and safe, they said.

As the weather gets colder, Roy adds cardigans—and sometimes even a sports coat—to his look. Additionally, during some winter days, icy roads make it too dangerous for Bermeo to wear her classic stilettos.

MOST IMPORTANTLY, DO wear what you are comfortable in

For different professors, being comfortable means different things. However, it is most important to feel comfortable in front of your students.

For Roy, being comfortable usually means jeans and a t-shirt.

“I’d like to think I’m about a step above slob,” he said. “There’s so many other things to think about, and being comfortable makes for a more comfortable atmosphere.”

Roy stressed that lecture fashion is about setting the kind of atmosphere you want in your classroom, but also about practicality for post-class commitments, such as working in the laboratory.

On the other end of the spectrum, Charles Skender, professor of economics, wears a suit and tie every single day, a practice that has stuck with him since his days in public accounting. He does enjoy mixing his wardrobe up, nonetheless.

“On Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, I wear bow ties. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, I wear neck ties. I also wear braces (suspenders), cuff links, a pocket square and a lapel pin,” he wrote in an email. 

However, though Skender dresses professionally, he agrees professors should wear whatever they’re comfortable in since “the most important aspect is teaching the material, not putting on a fashion show.”