Fashion (buns to the left) Fashion (cardigans to the right)

So, fashion. Or style. Or wardrobe. Or costume. What do we librarians wear, anyway, and why does it matter–if, in fact, it does? (Per usual, my discussion is pretty child and teen librarian focused. Allow me to wear my bias like a hot dog button on my sleeve).

For myself, I’ve been known to wear: book themed t-shirts, including Doctor Suess and Where the Wild Things Are; bunches of jelly bracelets (which kids love); sneakers with polkadot laces; and many, many cardigans. At work, my primary focus is comfort and being able to move in my clothes (can’t do storytime if you’re unsupported or your pants are too tight) with style coming in a close second. I feel that you need to wear clothes that you feel like yourself in, both physically and psychologically.

But I also feel, having worked with small children in one capacity or another since 2001, that we who work with children need to constantly work against the assumption that we are cheerful, paste-eating morons who do nothing but play with children (because, you know, playing is frivolous and does nothing to help children LEARN OR ANYTHING). This should be done mostly with what we say and what we do, but, frankly, we are constantly judged by how we look, especially if we are women. And if you’re fat or a woman of color? Good luck with that. (After all, it’s 2012, and we still have to put out things like a guide to writing about politics in a gender neutral way.)

Here’s the thing: we all work hard. Our work is important. We need to present as people who are to be reckoned with, who can’t be ignored or dismissed. If you can accomplish this while wearing costumes (superhero or otherwise), Hunger Games t-shirts, buttons, or vintage polka dots, then so be it. But in my opinion, it’s all proportional–the more quirky your appearance, the more rock solid your foundation needs to be–because people will always use your appearance–clothing, hair, skin color, and body type–to judge you and in some cases even dismiss you.

The thing that bothers me more than book earrings or pencil sweaters is looking like you don’t care. If you’re invested in dressing like Mimi from the Drew Carey Show, and it works for your patrons, then own it. I guess what it comes down to for me is indifference. If you look like you haven’t thought about your appearance, and how you come across to your patrons, then you’re probably not that invested in what they want or need.

What do you think?

2 responses to “Fashion (buns to the left) Fashion (cardigans to the right)”

  1. Hrm . . . Definitely an interesting thought. How we appear really does make an impact. But, at what point are we repressing who we are in order to appear more professional/teen-approachable (read: non-tool)/child-friendly?

    We definitely do need to consider the image we put forth; however, I have to admit that I don’t generally give it too much thought. That said, there are certainly things I do not wear at work and things I specifically only wear to work. I usually find myself dressed in slacks and a t-shirt/polo with either literary references or just fun stuff ala Woot, et al. For example, today I am wearing a blue woot shirt featuring a cute teddy bear riding a giant flying bear through the sky. My pants are basic charcoal slacks that I don’t like, but are “acceptable.” For shoes, I finish it off with my black and hot-pink skate shoes. Clean, but not toolish. Appropriate, but approachable.

    Fact is, I often find myself pining for the amazing outfits that my female compatriots wear. So much more variety and fun than the choices I seem to have as a man at a workplace. Of course, that could simply be a reflection of the community I work in . . . my acceptable fashion sliding scale seems to consist of Stuffy Manager on the left and Douchy Hipster on the right. There isn’t a whole lot of options down that line . . . one kind of shirt or another and slacks of any neutral color choice. Which may be why I just find myself in t-shirts and something that could be argued as khaki slacks (carpenter work pants and the like). And even those choices are definitely arguable according to our work’s dress code.

    I must be doing something right, though, as I seem to be a favorite of many patrons across different age ranges.


  2. Had to leave a comment, of course.
    I, too, tend to be a favorite among patrons and am by far the most casual dresser in my department. I’ve always been that way. Jeans, brown or black shoes (occasionally boots!) and a plaid or solid shirt are the norm for me along with a pony tail. We also have a strict dress code which forbids us from wearing anything with an item on it (flower, unicorn, woot, etc.) If it isn’t part of the print of the fabric we can’t wear it. Nice jeans are acceptable, no shorts, knee length skirts ok. While I fight this a lot (it’s just dumb, in my opinion-we are librarians and patrons feel more comfortable around us when we aren’t wearing a suit), if I’m presenting something about early literacy to the board or other stakeholders I might dress a little fancier. But really, I’m more interested in breaking the idea of people needing to dress a certain way for anything. I’m an advocate of clothes for function, not fashion. They serve a purpose to cover us up, keep us warm, etc. and while certainly people are visual and notice how things look, society determines what is appropriate or not. So, I’ll be a little fancier for the board since they expect it, but still throw in some casual in order to be comfortable and confident in myself and what I’m selling. I’m uncomfortable in slacks, heels and jackets. Jewelry is practically out of the question.How am I supposed to confidently do my work when I’m so uncomfortable? Not very well or I’m cranky and unhappy and that’s not good for anybody, really. And at conferences, if I’m not presenting, I hope my fellow librarians would be the one group to accept me however I come, book earrings, horton shirt, blue socks and all.
    A little morsel of sexism to get your goat… our library allows women to wear capris but not men. Gotta keep those gender roles nice and clear lest patrons confuse the male librarian for the female one. That would be a disaster! Oh, and the union employees can wear the union t-shirt but no other logo t-shirts are allowed (not even on with an ALA logo for example). Harumph.


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