Teaching with style
Students discuss fashionable professors
A professor with a strong sense of personal style doesn’t necessarily make a class better, but it also doesn’t hurt, according to some UB students.
Some students think a well-dressed professor gives off an air of professionalism and encourages them to pay attention in class; other students don’t seem to notice what their instructor is wearing.
Ramtin Sadid-Zadeh, an assistant restorative dentistry professor at the School of Dental Medicine, bases his style on what he sees in magazines, movies and on fashionable people.
“I have these [influences] in my mind [and] then I personalized it,” Sadid-Zadeh said in an email. “When I am shopping, based on the images that I [have] in my mind, and my personality, I pick and match.”
Sadid-Zadeh appreciates the excitement stylish dressing can bring, but recognizes that people will judge outfits in different ways.
“It does not make them a better or worse person or teacher, [but] it adds some spice to daily life,” he said. “Some may judge you based on the way you dress, others might appreciate [it].”
Stylish professors put Daniel Perlino, a senior English major, in a better mood. He notices when professors have a certain look that matches their personality. Although a stylish professor won’t make or break a class for him, he tends to like classes better if the professor looks like he or she put thought into his or her outfit.
O’Brien Welsh, a senior political science and history major, said it is easy to tell when professors doesn’t care about the way they look.
“We can honestly say that if you walk into certain departments, we see that some professors are trapped in the wrong era or could care less about what outfit they mash together 10 minutes before leaving their homes,” Welsh said.
Sadid-Zadeh thinks what he teaches, combined with his profession as a dentist and a prosthodontist, influences his appreciation of fashion.
His student, Brittany Swiderski, a second-year student at the School of Dental Medicine, said she can always expect the professor to be outfitted in “great shirt and tie combinations.” She thinks this makes his patients and students feel comfortable and confident in his abilities as a dentist.
“Dr. Sadid teaches an indirect lab component, which has a significant esthetic component to it, so it makes sense that he would be especially aware of outward appearances,” Swiderski said.
Katherine Brown, a visiting assistant English professor, dresses in clothes she said look “vaguely Victorian” because she considers herself a Victorianist.
Some professors don’t think style should play a part in a student’s opinion of them or their class.
Randy Schiff, an associate English professor and the director of undergraduate studies for the English department, sports a blazer every day, regardless of the weather, according to his student, Justina Arriaza Virga, a senior English and political science major.
Schiff, however, doesn’t think his style is what causes his impact on students, but rather the quality of his teaching and “the content of his syllabus.” Virga agrees.
“I don't think stylish professors impact how much I like or learn from a class,” Virga said. “That comes from the professor's teaching abilities to demonstrate their field.”
Cassandra Garzion, a sophomore global gender studies major, said although style might not change what she learns in class, she pays more attention to professors who dress nicely because they give off a vibe of importance and professionalism. She also recognizes personal style can be reflected in a professor’s teaching style.
“Professors who dress more casually are more conversational and professors who dress more formally tend to stick to monologues,” said Garzion.
For some professors, dressing the part isn’t for their students – it’s for themselves.
Brown said dressing professionally helped her step into the role of professor.
“I’ve always taught at universities where the faculty makes an effort,” she said. “This was helpful to me because I was a very shy teacher when I first started, and dressing ‘like a professor’ helped me feel like one.”
Schiff said he tends to dress more formally to convey to others and to himself he is taking what he does “very seriously.”
Just as students have opinions about professors’ style, professors have opinions about students’ style. Many agreed students should dress with a certain level of professionalism if they want to be taken seriously.
Michelle Benson-Saxton, an associate political science professor, said students have a more relaxed style than their professors. She recommended that they avoid wearing pajamas to school.
“I would still recommend that students make an effort to look put together,” she said. “It shows your professors and fellow students that you are serious about your role as a student.”
Brown said because students are busy with jobs and schoolwork she doesn’t care what they wear.
“I prefer that students wear a cheerful air of rapt attention,” said Brown.
Sadid-Zadeh recommended dental school students follow the dress code and dress neat, clean and professional.
“I think everyone should dress the way they deem fit,” Schiff said. “However, if a student asked me, I would tell the student that I think you should dress more formally than usual – to indicate to yourself and those around you that are you taking your studies seriously.”
Many students and professors said style is important for everyone on campus, but there isn’t necessarily a connection between style and success. Personal style varies as much between professors as their academic interests.
Ramtin Sadid-Zadeh, an assistant restorative dentistry professor at the School of Dental Dedicine (SDM), said magazines, movies and fashionable people influence his style.
“I have these [influences] in my mind [and] then I personalize it,” Sadid-Zadeh said in an email. “When I am shopping, based on the images that I [have] in my mind, and my personality, I pick and match.”
Sadid-Zadeh’s day-to-day style is more casual than his professional attire. He also picks his outfits out for whatever he has planned for the day.
“Depending to where I go or who I meet, I may have a jean with a casual blazer, or sweater,” Zadeh said. “I may wear chinos, shorts with casual shirt or T-shirt.”
Katherine Brown, a visiting assistant English professor, said as a child she received hand-me-downs from her older sisters because there was little money for clothing in her family.
“I think this gave me the sense that clothes are costumes and that you can shape how you feel by what you wear,” she said. “I also steer toward styles that aren’t likely to [be current], since I expect things to be around for a long time.”
Daniel Perlino, a senior English major, said Brown’s style charming is because it is elegant and doesn’t follow trends.
“She is poised and confident, but also extremely relatable and personal,” he said. “Her outfits always match in pattern and color; [I wondered] how she managed to match the navy blue of her blouse, skirt, and high-heeled shoes.”
Michelle Benson-Saxton, an associate political science professor, said she does not have specific style influences, but began appreciating “French style” after living in France for two years.
“I also like looking at J. Crew catalogues and the occasional style blog – wardrobeicons.com is a favorite,” she said in an email.
O’Brien Welsh, a senior political science and history major, said Benson-Saxton always puts together chic outfits.
“Her fashion style can be characterized as one that is timeless, classy and shows a great deal of ‘closet smarts,’” he said.