Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Librarian Fashion

The title of this blog post may seem like an oxymoron because the librarian stereotype seems to belie what we think of when we think of fashion.  The stereotype is a woman, hair in a bun with a pencil in it, glasses on her face or dangling from a chain around her neck and double tread floor gripper shoes. High fashion and librarians don't seem to mix.

But then I saw this piece in Elle Magazine.

I kept it in my office as a reminder that no matter how times have changed, no matter how eclectic librarians really are as they toil in libraries, librarians do have a perceived stereotype, even when perceived from the echelons of high fashion in a seemingly flattering light.

Yes, the above "seems" flattering, but at second glance...

The Stereotype:

"Bookish accessories"...check

"Proper polka dots"...check

"Smart cover-ups"...check



Flat, sensible shoes...check.

Name tag that says "Librarian."  Maybe, check.

Yep, it's all there...and then...

Dress with thigh high slit?...Yikes! 

Despite that one little thing, which I will get to in a minute, even now, even when the article is actually trying to be flattering, this stereotype surrounds librarians.

When I started out in the profession, I can't tell you how many times someone would say, "But you don't look like a librarian."  And that's because I was young, I dressed in the current styles and was outgoing, something that belies that old librarian stereotype.

That really bothered me.  Why?

Because a stereotype, even when it involves fashion, somehow belittles and diminishes.  It detracts from the important work that librarians do. 

I wanted to look like a librarian because I WAS a librarian.  But I didn't want to perpetuate that stereotype of the homely, anti-social librarian, so I worked to change that stereotype through how I looked and how I performed my job.

People who become librarians are as diverse as any other profession.  The stereotype of the quiet, bookish woman librarian persists mostly from people who haven't set foot in a library in years. Because if they had, they would know that libraries are so much more than books, and librarians don't have time to be "bookish," because they are too busy dealing with the issues that come up in any public place and putting out the fires that are part of a busy job.

Proper?  Not sure what that means.  I know male librarians who wear kilts and play in rock bands and women librarians who are tattooed from head to toe and dance in strip clubs at night.  Well, not really, the strip club thing, but they could.

Smart.  Well, yeah.  I will go along with that one.

Glasses.  I haven't worn glasses in public for over 40 years.  Most of us have heard of contacts, OK?  We are smart people.  But what if we WANT to wear glasses, huh?  What do you think about that?  What if we think really cool glasses are fashion statements?  What about that?  Huh?

Cardigan?  Ok, but with a classy belt.

Flat, sensible shoes?  I was never good about the sensible part.

Name tag...OK, I'll give you that one.

Dress with thigh high slit?  Well, no.  But I don't think you could get away with that in a law office or bank either. Though I like the idea of Elle Magazine adding that little twist and some sex appeal to librarians, I have a feeling it's harking back to that other librarian stereotype...the pent-up sexually frustrated librarian-type who keeps all of the dirty books behind the desk and who is just waiting for a hunky guy to come along so she can doff the glasses, pull her hair out of the bun and let him ravage her on the desk.  It's a guy thing.

I don't like that stereotype either.

The truth is, libraries are dynamic places that are helping people find jobs, helping children prepare for school, helping students with their homework, providing tax assistance and English as Second Language programs...I could go on and on.

And the library staff providing those services are dynamic people who may or may not be fashionistas, but that bun-wearing old lady shushing everyone who dares breathe too heavily are few and far between.

But despite that, the stereotype persists, so I have some advice for librarians who want to smash that stereotype while maintaining a professional attitude.

If you want to be taken seriously, dress seriously.
People go to librarians for assistance and they want to know that the people who are helping them know what they are doing.  So it's probably not a good idea to wear a T-Shirt that says something like "Librarian by day, Zombie Slayer by night" or "I like BIG BOOKS and I cannot lie."  Likewise, political statements or rude sayings, such as "I'd tell you to go to hell but I work there and then I would have to see you every day" probably won't inspire confidence.  That also might get you fired.

If you want to be treated like the professional person you are, dress like a professional person.
You don't need to "Dress for Success," like we did in the 70's, but jeans, a t-shirt and sandals are too casual if you want to be treated like a professional person, especially if you are a library manager.

Keep up with trends.
If you dress with some indication you know what's in fashion, it will also indicate you are aware of what's going on in the world.  Even women of a certain age can wear a trend of some kind.  I think it's a psychological thing.  People associate looking current with being current, that you know what's going on.  And looking like you know what's going on is a must for a librarian.

As for "Looking like a librarian?"

Here's what a librarian looks like.


 (what can I say?  It was the 80's)




I am now retired after 40 years as a librarian.  I have weathered (and tried) every fashion trend.  Even in retirement, I still try to stay current with and write about fashion, (here's my post about "Retirement Chic,"), though more and more I seem to wear my jammies until late in the day if I don't have to go out.  But that's one of the percs of retirement.

I still keep that Elle Magazine article in my office to remind myself that even in retirement, I look like a librarian.


Because I AM a librarian and this is what she looks like!

Thanks for Reading!

See you Friday 

for my review of the new movie


"Big Eyes,"
The Week in Reviews,
as well as my progress on
"My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project."

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  1. See my friend Vickie Steele at NYPL http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2012/06/27/work-wear-office-style-at-the-new-york-public-library/tab/interactive/

    Not to mention my other friend, Kaycee Hale, at FIDM http://fashion-merchandising.com/study-fashion-merchandising/

    1. Thanks, Dan. What a great bunch of great looking librarians! Love it!

  2. I don't think I ever thought in terms of librarians looking a certain way other than professional...too much history for me using libraries and knowing librarians as individuals. I have yet to run into a librarian who is not helpful and NICE to patrons.


    1. That's the irony. People who actually know librarians and use the library believe as you do. However, the stereotype is propelled by those who DON'T not to mention movies and TV still using it as a source of amusement when they want to describe someone who is "bookish" or a boring quiet environment.

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    1. Thanks for you comment. Glad you enjoyed it!


  4. I always find it funny when people think librarians and high fashion don't mix because I am a librarian (Well, a librarian director now...) and used to be a runway model. I actually used to have the original Fashionista Librarian blog, over 10 years ago, which was on Geocities--and am proud to see someone else is now carrying my torch. It makes me proud to see how today'a librarians do not fit into one mold; the image of today's librarian, realistically, is not the stereotype we were accustomed to and is so many different things. It's really wonderful.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. The librarian stereotype has been something that rankled me my whole career. "You don't look like a librarian" was something that was said to me ad infinitum. I would reply" What is a librarian supposed to look like?" But 40 years later, not much has changed. I carry the torch in my own small way but I have to pass it to the younger generation. My daughter is also a librarian and a bit of a fashionista so I will have to give the torch to her. But I love to think that a runway model was amongst us! :)

  5. Hello my name is Jessica and I'm in the first period of librarianship, I'm Brazilian, sorry for the bad English T.T. I graduated in fashion design, and since the first contact with the course this stereotype of librarian has made me uneasy, perhaps because I have a formation in fashion and understand a little more of it, anyway I loved your post, I plan to use this Topic in some academic work, and I would like to know if you have any other material that can pass me? Thank you!

    1. Thank you for your comment, Jessica. Welcome to the world of Librarianship! I don't have any other posts about librarian fashion but I have written quite a bit about the "experience" of being a librarian. Here are a couple of links: http://www.rosythereviewer.com/2013/11/things-librarians-hate.html and http://www.rosythereviewer.com/2014/04/why-we-need-librarians.html. Also if you Google Rosy the Reviewer Librarian likewise Rosy the Reviewer library you will find more of what I have written about being a librarian. Thanks again for your comment and good luck in your career!

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