Home > Academia, Archaeology > Clothes make the Professional: Archaeological Boots

Clothes make the Professional: Archaeological Boots

This past week, I’ve been preparing to teach P. Novick’s That Noble Dream (Cambridge 1988) and P. Menand’s The Marketplace of Ideas (New York 2010).  Both these books foreground the process of professionalization in a university context.  In a recent spat over the character of academic offices, I argued that we ought to model our offices on the creative space of highly flexible technology start up companies rather than the antiseptic space of anonymous, highly bureaucratized companies (some of which are now faltering).  This idea did not meet with much acceptance especially as the link between university culture and corporate culture is well-known.

This brings me to what academics should wear. Over my time as  teacher I’ve found myself increasingly adopting a more and more professional dress code especially on the days that I teach in the classroom.  When I am writing in my office, I tend to dress more casually and comfortably.  In this way, I publicly divide creative time (writing) from corporate time (teaching).  (This is not to suggest that these two do not overlap).

I also have another professional persona and that is as a field archaeologist.  In the media, at least, archaeologists are known for distinctive clothing, but even Indiana Jones dressed in a more professional “corporate” way when in the classroom (bow tie and the requisite tweed).  C. Holtorf has written on this very topic in some interesting ways here and here.

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I prefer to “rock the neck beard” in the field to mark out my departure from “corporate” world of classroom. I typically imagine my rather unkempt appearance as an reference to the archaeologist as artisan.  The neck beard represents the both a layer of additional protection against the sun, the unpleasant nature of shaving and then sweating, and distracted air of someone deeply engaged in their work.

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The boundaries between my various professional identities or avatars (casual creative writer, stuffy company man teacher, and archaeologist as artisan) can be fairly rigid. I will occasionally wear a NASCAR hat while walking across campus in my teaching attire, but never in the classroom.  I will also sometimes wear my teaching clothes on days when I have a series of “important” committee meetings or other responsibilities.  The one thing that I almost always wear (at least from October to April) are my boots.

Boots are the most vital component of an archaeologist wardrobe.  Without a rugged pair of boots, an archaeologist is, at best, another weekend warrior whose engagement with the realities of the out-of-doors stops at the well-groomed trail or the end of a manicured lawn.  Boots make the archaeology.

My wife introduced my to Blundstone boots almost 10 years ago and since then, I have never been without a pair.  I wear them on campus, in teaching clothes, in my creative clothes, while walking home and while doing anything outdoors.  (Ironically, I don’t always wear them while doing actual archaeology. I prefer low-top boots and nylon to the traditional Blundstone, hightop, leather.)  I have found that my boots last about 3 years, but I don’t care for them properly.  The walks home through the freezing snow and the super dry environment in campus buildings tend to make the leather dry out.  I shuffle my feet and walk incautiously scuffing the tips on obstacles.  I have a pronation in one of my feet and that stretches the leather in an unnatural way usually resulting in it pulling a bit away from the sole.  A few times a year, after considerable harassment, I will polish the boots and put some leather treatment on them.  If I pass through the Minneapolis airport, I’ll stop at the shoe shine place, but that’s mostly to banter about the Timberwolves and, as they say, to pass the time.  (The men at the shoeshine stand can always identify the Blundstone’s and usually chide me for not taking better care of them!).

This past week, I got my new pair of Blundstone’s!  They replace my old pair as the link between my professional avatar as a teacher and my professional avatar as an archaeologist.  The old boots get retired into more rugged duty and less high profile tasks (shoveling snow, mowing the lawn, et c.) and the new boots make their debut this morning on a casual writing day.  The old boots are inscribed with three years of activities from long walks with the wife through our small town to cold winter mornings spent shoveling out the car.  They also preserve the marks of innumerable professional lectures, classroom successes and failures, and afternoons in the library, archives, or hunched over my lap top. Coats of water, snow, polish, and conditioner have changed their color.  My idiosyncratic stride has etched deep wrinkles across the soft leather.

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The new boots are stiff and unforgiving at present undoubtedly aware of the fate of their predecessors and hoping to hold off the inevitable.

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Categories: Academia, Archaeology
  1. December 6, 2010 at 11:49 am

    Ha!
    This was a great post, Bill!
    I am wishing your boots all the best in their struggle against time and wear.

  2. December 6, 2010 at 3:34 pm

    These boots are made for walkin’, and teachin’, and committee meetings, and a little archaeology, and mowing and …. well you get the idea. They’re Blunnies!

  3. Kostis Kourelis
    December 6, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    Oh man. I’m now totally worries: are we doubles? Although we never discussed this, I’m a Blundstone guy, in fact, so committed I might have to tell some stories on my blog. Question: Do your Blundstones ever start making a creaking sound? usually one of the two? And I’ve been thinking of Fred Astaire’s tap dancing shoes, having intense conversations with a colleague about Zizek and pyschoanalysis!!! I must also send you this amazing chapter by Fredrick Jameson about modernism to postmodernism based on the analysis of shoes, from Heidegger and van Gogh to Andy Warhol.

  4. R. H. Cline
    December 7, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    Interesting topics. On professional and corporate attire in academia, I would add that there are a number of subtle differences between what is acceptable formal wear for academics, and what is acceptable as formal wear in the world of finance, say. Take the image of Indiana Jones’ suit, for example. The earth tones, striped shirt, and subdued tie distinguish him from the G-men who wear more “corporate” looking suits early in the film. The film reflects some of the distinctions that continue to exist in academic formal wear. For example, few academics teach in blue suits (although they often wear them for interviews), whereas the blue suit is a standard uniform in the world of banking and finance. Academic formal(for men, at least) often consists of non-matching pants and blazer, or suits in gray or earth-tones. Or, any of the above mixed with denim (just to show that you are not too corporate). In other words, academic formal wear takes elements of the corporate wardrobe in order to communicate professionalism but presents them in a way that is intended to look un-corporate. I think the origins of this aesthetic may be rooted in the class biases of the past, when professors did not wish to be associated with those who had to earn their money (i.e. the corporate world) but rather those who had the leisure to pursue their careers because of family wealth. And, I think, even today crossing the line into what could be taken for actual corporate attire can be a faux-pas in some academic settings — revealing that one is not authentically academic, or something. For instance, I apparently crossed this line one day and was told (with a sneer) by a colleague in the natural sciences that I looked like a banker. Ouch!

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