Posted tagged ‘fashion’

Oh very young

August 22, 2018

At a recent meeting with some students I was admiring the close coordination between two of them as they explained an issue to me, and complimented them by saying they were the Simon and Garfunkel of the gathering. They, and indeed everyone else, looked blank, and I suddenly realised that no one there knew what I was talking about.

I was reminded of this when I read the latest ‘mindset list‘ of things that today’s young people do not know or have not experienced, or in some matters take for granted. I rather think that my generation in particular always thought that our experiences and cultural preferences defined the age, not just for us but for younger generations sharing the planet with us. But we kid ourselves, and those of us who still manage to stay with the times do so because we have become followers rather than leaders in these matters. What was modern in the 1970s definitely no longer is.

But I will say this. I was surprised, and still am, that no one at my gathering admitted to knowing Simon and Garfunkel. If they had claimed the same ignorance of the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, or Elton John, or Rod Stewart, or even Cat Stevens, I might not have believed them. Our music at least is still out there somewhere in 2018, as the music of 1918 most definitely was not in 1968. We win on that one.

But overall, our influence is here today and gone tomorrow. And that goes for today’s youth too.

Oh very young, what will you leave us this time
You’re only dancin’ on this earth for a short while-
Oh very young, what will you leave us this time?



July 8, 2011

It’s Friday. And all round the working world there will be offices and other workplaces in which today’s convention will be to ‘dress down’. In such places men often won’t be wearing ties, and there’ll be a lot of denim in various forms, some of it pleasing, but much of it unfortunate.

So is it time more generally, and not just on Fridays, to re-think clothing? Should we, following the lead of places like California, give up wearing ties altogether? Or is there a risk that men, many of whom are not style icons, will simply descend into general scruffiness? Is it time to free the neck but persuade men in particular to be more imaginative in what they wear? Or is that all just too trivial? And how will any of this work in universities, where a sense of personal style has perhaps never been one of the most obvious hallmarks of academic life?

The generation game

August 11, 2009

Recently an academic colleague told me about how he had, during a lecture, referred to the TV show The Generation Game, and suddenly realised that nobody in his first year student audience had the remotest idea what he was talking about. This seriously shocked him – he could not believe that this cultural icon was unknown to his students. For heaven’s sake, he pointed out to me, the last series had only ended in 2001! Leaving aside for a moment that you couldn’t seriously expect anyone to watch a show hosted by Jim Davidson (Generation Game, 1995-2001) – the only real presenter was Bruce Forsyth (Generation Game, 1971-1977) – it had clearly not occurred to him that a 17-year-old would have been 9 when the show had its last run, and might not have been interested then or be able to recall it now.

A similar experience was reported by an American professor who was unable to get his students to see the 1992 US presidential election campaign as something relevant to their own lifetime experience, though it seemed something very recent to him. I suspect that many of us have been aware of those moments when, in talking with students, we shared some little experiences which we thought must make us look rather cool, only to see their eyes glaze over as they became aware of just how old we must be. And it was always so; hell, I remember feeling vaguely embarrassed for the lecturer who in 1974 wanted us to think he was absolutely with it by mentioning the 1960s pop band, the Tremeloes.

Of course every older generation struggles when it wants to impress the next one, and it is no different for academics. However, academics have as perhaps the main ingredient of their profession the task of communicating with younger people, and may feel that they need to do it in terms that students can recognise as addressing their interests and concerns. Can this be done successfully? Does it in fact need to be done?

It’s hard to say. I remember that when I was a student we had some professors who were really quite endearing because of their obvious and complete ignorance of anything contemporary – the kind who would still call a radio ‘the wireless’. And there were others whose hard-worked-for trendiness was simply grating. But then again, we also appreciated the lecturer who made a genuine effort to listen as we talked about what we regarded as important and who even did a little bit of research on the things we mentioned.

In the end, I think the key issue is not to know about every aspect of youth culture (or whatever we might guess it is), but rather to have an open mind and try to understand what the next generation is interested in. For me, that has meant recently becoming acquainted with the rapper Eminem, in order to understand a little better why a group of students I spoke with liked him so much. And it has been a useful bit of learning: because yes, as I already knew, Marshall Mathers is somewhat foul-mouthed; but he also is a genuine poet with something to say.

So what is my advice? Don’t try too hard, and don’t think that you need to be someone you are not – that doesn’t particularly impress anyone. But it is important to understand what the generation we are teaching think and believe, and it is right to engage with that and to learn about it. But don’t ever think that what you felt was modern when you were young still feels that way now. Don’t ever be tempted to show your old photographs when you had outrageous sideburns and wore flares. Just be thankful that era is gone.

Men in suits

June 26, 2008

Do you ever attend gatherings at which you wonder whether you are appropriately dressed? Well, you’re not alone in this.

To the best of my recollection, I have attended six meetings this week at which I was the only person not wearing a suit. That may tell you – though it needn’t be so – that at these meetings no women were present. But it also tells you that, in Ireland at certain meetings, we are all still very traditional in our tastes. As it happens, I very rarely wear a suit; it’s not that I disapprove of them, but I don’t like the air of formality they tend to convey. I do usually wear a tie – though not always – but I don’t tend to put on a suit more than about once or twice a month.

But actually, why are men in senior academic positions still so attached to such formal wear? In the business community it is now increasingly common to see men wearing informal clothes (albeit often very expensive ones). What is it that we feel we need to prove that makes us buck this trend? It is perhaps part of the outward formality that tends to mark out academic life: formal clothing (or if not formal, then usually remarkably old-fashioned) accompanying formal procedures and visible hierarchies.

One of DCU’s most successful student societies is the Style Society. I think I need to get in touch with them to get some advice on how universities can shed some of the excessively traditional image. Or maybe I need some advice just for myself, so that I can confidently start to discard the tie as well as the suit.