Being a university professor means that you don’t have to wear a uniform; on one hand that can be liberating, but it can also be confusing. What you choose to wear is important because you do not want to come across as a stiff, fuddy-duddy professor, yet at the same time you should avoid looking like a slob who is trying too hard to fit in with your students. Ideally, you should dress in a way which strikes a balance between approachability and authoritativeness.
Problems arise when you combine the difficulties of finding the ideal balance of semi-professionalism with hot, sticky weather. Dressing comfortably for summer in any workplace environment is a challenge, let alone on a university campus. University lecturers not only have to deal with the heat while delivering their presentations, but they also have to ensure that they are not baring too much flesh - as doing so will make them easy targets for ogling and unwanted comments from university students.
Men should stock up on lightweight suits, t-shirts and appropriate shorts, while female lecturers should fill their wardrobes with loose, flowing shirts, dresses and skirts that don’t bare cleaving or reveal too much leg.
1. A lightweight business suit
Beginning with the most formal of options, both male and female lecturers can choose to wear a suit in the summer months to uphold a professional image year-round. To ensure that you are not weighed down by heavy, stifling fabric, have a variety of suits to take you from the winter to summer months. When purchasing a suit, go for timeless classics and colours such as black, white, grey and brown, rather than trying to keep up with current trends.
Lightweight material such as cotton, linen, silk and satin will allow you to dress formally without overheating. Cotton and linen are natural fibre fabrics which will sit comfortably on your skin, while silk and satin are also breathable and cool to the touch. Stick to these fabrics when purchasing any item of clothing for summer, not just suits.
2. A knee-length dress
Women will feel infinitely cooler while wearing a dress, however, they should ensure it does not reveal too much skin in order to avoid any awkward moments mid-lecture. Dresses and skirts should be knee-length, and not so lightweight that a sudden gust of wind will cause them to flash your underwear.
While capped shoulders or sleeves are not necessary, female professors should avoid wearing anything with spaghetti straps or a plunging neckline. Similarly, avoid anything which is backless, halter neck or shows off your bra straps.
If you have any doubt at all about whether what you are wearing is appropriate, it is probably not - and it’s best left for casual wear off-campus. Remember that you want your students to be focusing on the material at hand, and not at whether or not you are about to suffer a wardrobe malfunction!
3. A t-shirt with trousers
Both sexes can rock a stylish t-shirt and trousers, however, it is important to note that this look can go from crisp and slick to sloppy and unprofessional very easily. Invest in a few well-fitting, good quality t-shirts. When you dress in the morning, ensure that both your t-shirt and your tailored trousers are freshly ironed and free of stains. Pull the outfit together with a nice belt and pair of shoes.
4. Give tweed a makeover
University professors have a bad reputation for wearing tweed; however, there is no reason you cannot make it cool again. Avoid wearing dated, full piece suits and instead look to the latest fashion.
Men should stick to a statement tweed vest or trousers, and keep the rest of their outfit neutral, while women can opt for a dress in a classic style, as pictured. Show your students that tweed is making a comeback!
5. A loose skirt and lightweight shirt
Women should remember that airy, flowy skirts are preferable to pencil skirts in the hot summer months, as they will not stick uncomfortably to your skin. Again, choose a lightweight fabric in knee to three-quarter length. Miniskirts are not appropriate, while floor length skirts often look too “earth mother” to be appropriate for the university theatre.
Combine your loose-fitting skirt with a lightweight shirt or even a T-shirt, and you will undoubtedly stay cool delivering your lectures.
6. Brighten things up
Summer is the time when both sexes can get away with wearing brighter colours. One of the struggles lecturers and teachers have to deal with is keeping their students focused when the weather is nice outside. Studies have proven that wearing bright colours can improve the mood of others around you. This means that your students will be more likely to stay focused on the lesson you are delivering, rather than be daydreaming about the sunshine outside.
Men can add colour to their wardrobe via a bright t-shirt, funky-patterned tie or white trousers, while women may select from bold blouses and tops, dresses and shoes. Try to limit the bright colours to one piece at a time. Avoid clashing colours and patterns, and do not dress head to toe in bright colours. If you choose to wear white, ensure it is stain-free and wear flesh-coloured underwear that cannot be seen by the naked eye.
7. Shorts with flair
Shorts are a delicate item to wear in a professional setting. Given current fashion trends, women are at risk of exposing too much with any of the shorts in the market at the moment, while men may look like they have just stepped off the beach if they show up to class in shorts.
For both sexes, the trick is to choose shorts which are knee-length or ever so slightly above. Ensure the rest of your outfit is polished; think crisp white button-up, rather than a tank top and flip-flops. Again, if your outfit looks more suited to the beach, it is best left for the beach.
8. Sensible footwear
Although it can be tempting to turn up to work in flip-flops when the mercury rises, do not abuse the faculty’s no-uniform policy. Remember that you are still in a professional environment. Women should leave the stilettos at home, and instead wear flats or a low heel. Sandals are okay, but try to cover as much of your foot as possible. Men should wear loafers or a casual dress shoe, and shy away from any kind of sandal.
9. Well-fitting, clean and comfortable outfits
Regardless of what outfit you choose to wear in the summer months, you must ensure that your clothes are clean and pressed. They should fit you well, so that you are not constantly pulling your pants up to avoid flashing your underwear or tugging your shirt back into place to cover your midriff.
10. Minimal accessories
Accessorising is a great way to express your individual style and flair, but avoid being tacky. Stay away from any wild or brash scarves, hats or jewellery. When you are pacing the lecture theatre, you do not want to jangle with every step, so keep jewellery to a minimum.
Always remember that less is more, so stick to one statement accessory and, if it is particularly bold, keep the rest of your outfit relatively conservative and neutral in colour.
When you are working in the flexible environment of a university campus it is important to find a way to dress creatively without crossing any professional boundaries. Remember the golden rule: if your outfit could be worn at the beach, it does not belong in any kind of work environment. Hopefully the outfits above have provided some inspiration for how to dress in the summer months, if you have any other tips please share them in the comment box below.