Ever heard of an “executive clothier”? Gender and clothes at Harvard Business School.

As the debate sparked by the New York Times’ Sept. 8th 2013 piece on gender equity at Harvard Business School (HBS) continues, HBS teaching cases still get distributed to students, HBS class sessions continue to be meet on a regular basis, and HBS faculty members still review their teaching notes before stepping into “the pit” (i.e., the center of the classroom).

My ethnography of faculty socialization at HBS emphasizes the above recurring campus activities rather than gender dynamics on campus. But even recurring activities can take on a gendered flavor.

anteby-jacket

Here is a snippet from the book that will make this clear. The below excerpt relates to how faculty members dress. The default assumption seems to be that the person assembling a teaching wardrobe is a male.

Academics tend to pay little attention to their attire, but most senior School faculty members have a clear sense of proper dress in the classroom… Many entering faculty members receive a call from an “executive clothier” within a few weeks of joining the School. (The clothier has long done business with the School’s faculty but is not on staff.) When I received the call, I recall thinking that the person calling was probably a tailor. “Soon you will start to teach,” he told me, “and you need to be properly dressed…. I can help you make the transition.” “You’ll need a certain number of suits,” he explained. “You might also need to attend formal events that will require a different set of clothes than your daily attire.” (I was soon to discover that this meant faculty social events.) The clothier offered to help me find a limited number of color and fabric matches to “facilitate” my life.

Help was indeed needed. With close to thirty teaching sessions looming, two or three per week over the course of the semester, a large wardrobe would be required. “Go to Brooks Brothers for shirts and suits,” a pragmatic colleague advised. “You can never go wrong.”

 

In 2005, the year I joined the HBS faculty, no clothier reached out to my entering female colleagues. Perhaps their sense of fashion was more established than their male counterparts. Or perhaps the historical demand for women’s clothes was too low to warrant such calls. Regardless, the clothier clearly embodied the School’s tradition, and the omission said something about the place of women faculty in that history. Maybe the time has come for a clothier to help female faculty pick their wardrobe.

1 comment
  1. Re: “In 2005, the year I joined the HBS faculty, no clothier reached out to my entering female colleagues. Perhaps their sense of fashion was more established than their male counterparts. Or perhaps the historical demand for women’s clothes was too low to warrant such calls.”

    No. For decades, many people, especially men, have believed that trying to help women can be as risky as obstructing them. “How dare you tell me how to dress! I’ll wear whatever I please!”

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