Sunday, August 12, 2007

Cleaning up your nerdy appearance   posted by agnostic @ 8/12/2007 12:57:00 PM

This is apropos of the discussions about nerdiness and helping girls get math by appealing to conventional femininity, rather than fostering a counter-culture of female nerdiness. Obviously, encouraging girls to not care about their appearance is awful advice. [1] However, smart females are not deplorably inept at meeting standards, since their feminine instincts guide them to attend to such things. But the sartorial state of smart males couldn't be worse, excepting the ground zero of 20th Century slovenliness -- the counter-culture of the late 1960s and early 1970s. [2] An excerpt from bad-cop Udolpho's "Dressing like a retard isn't impressing anyone":

Ironically, people who dismiss clothes as a superficial indication of the person are the first to boast that their unconventional (or, more likely, sadly conventional) attire is a hint to their creative genius -- usually they cloak this boast by saying something like, "the smartest people I know wear…" as if I would give a damn. These people cannot face what they really are.

Rather than argue hypothetically over "creativity vs. conformity," let's just see if dressing like an adult hurt any of the great minds of the past. Now, I'm not arguing that dressing properly is a necessary or sufficient condition for greatness, only that it is neither here nor there in the matter. This deflates the protestation of "hindering creativity," leaving the underdressed with no excuse to reject growing up and showing your colleagues that you hold your relations with them in higher regard than stepping out to get the morning paper. It also inspires confidence in you among those below you at work, and it presents a good role model to your social inferiors. [3]

Gallery of geniuses in genteel garb

Look at how well the greats of the past dressed themselves, sticking just to mathematicians, since they are the prototypical anti-social, unkempt geek of the present day:

In the interest of space, I'll just link to pictures of Cauchy, Riemann, and Hilbert. And look how well Galois dressed, even though he was likely no older than 20. (And lest you think him a stuffy conservative, he was a radical Republican.) So c'mon, if Euler could find time to dress well during his busy schedule of churning out theorems and babies, much like Bach, then so can you.

Look at what a difference this makes, using the bodies of a geek and a gent, and the head of uber-nerd Brian Krakow from My So-Called Life:

What to do?

Now for the aspiring adults, here are some links to online guides and shopping sites. For starters, browse Clothes and the Man, or any of the similar books featured on the page. I haven't read any of them, so I can't say which is best, but they all have high ratings. You can also visit the men's section of Caveat: it tends to be more hip and trendy (though still good-looking), and if you need help, it's best to start with less transient styles.

For example, pick Valentino from the "Complete Collection" menu. Most of that you could copy and look great year after year. For the more conservative or traditional readers, visit the websites of Hickey Freeman or Ralph Lauren's Purple Label. Just get some ideas -- you don't have to buy anything yet.

When the time comes to purchase, unless you have lots of money, you'll need to go to a discount designer store in person or online. If you live in a large metro area, chances are there's at least one of the following nearby: Filene's Basement, Century 21 (NY area only), or any of The Mills or Premium Outlets malls, which typically house outlets for Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom's, etc.

The two best online stores are, in order, Yoox and Bluefly. They let you return items, so don't worry. Speaking of which, the clothes don't have to fit perfectly: you can always have them tailored, once and for all. Some things must fit, though, like the neck of a dress shirt, or the shoulders of a blazer. I'm sure the books I linked to spell out all of this in detail.

That should be plenty to get started. Obviously you're not going to dress like a prince every day, but big deal. No one will care if you don't dress impeccably, since no one's perfect; the point is to make a satisfactory effort. And don't be daunted: the process of change is quick like adaptive evolution, whereby large fitness gains come from the first handful of substitutions, not the myriad others that fine-tune things afterwards.

[1] It will slash their chances of landing a nice boyfriend, increasing the probability of having to settle for dopes. It says to potential employers that they won't cave in to minimal professional duties. And it shouts out, "I'm too smart / cool to have to impress you by looking presentable." Yeah right -- remind me again how many Nobel Prizes you've won? That's what I thought.

[2] Like most guys of today, I was pretty slobbish, but only up until my senior year of college. Take it from a nerd who's been there: dressing well will mark a drastic change in how others treat and view you, whether they're your peers, inferiors, or superiors.

[3] Your inferiors may not be in a financial position to dress as well as you, but if they look around and see an abandonment of standards, they will feel free to go around in sweatpants, holey "wife-beater" shirts, and chewed-up flip-flops. This situation, because of its pervasiveness, is a public nuisance more offensive than the occasional blaring of reggaeton from ghettofied car stereos.