Do the clothes make the library man?
April 26, 2012 4:08 PM   Subscribe

How should a mid-30s, male public library director dress?

So just got a new job, as the director of a medium-sized public library. I've been a librarian and/or library middle manager for a decade, and feel like I've always been a good-but-not-great dresser in those roles. But making the leap to dressing like a library director feels daunting.
To complicate matters, most of the library directors I know are either women or not the kind of guys I'd turn to for sartorial advice. Meanwhile, the guys I would usually ask for fashion tips may not really understand the work environment very well. Local government in general, and public libraries in particular can be a weird place to dress; typically, dudes have to wear a tie, but it tends to be an otherwise pretty casual-dress environment.
Currently, I wear nicer flat-front cotton chinos (usually navy, gray, or dark khaki), a button-down oxford shirt (white or blue, maybe with a stripe or tattersall check), a tie, and maybe a sweater when the weather's nasty. This is, as nearly as I can tell, somewhere between completely normal and unusually well-dressed among male non-administrators at the various public libraries in which I have worked.
That uniform doesn't seem adequate for my new gig, but wearing a suit every day seems like overkill.
Where's the right middle ground here? Am I just wrong about suits maybe being overkill? Is it a faux pas to wear a blazer with cotton chinos instead of dress pants?
I feel reasonably confident that:
  1. I'll need to move from button-down shirts to dress shirts, in preparation for needing to wear a jacket at least some of the time
  2. I'll need even more ties
  3. I'll need nicer shoes, and I should probably take up polishing them
Everything else feels like alchemy. What's a fella to do? Please hope me!
posted by anonymous to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Just watch any episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer from season 1, and pay attention to Giles. That guys rocks the sexy dude librarian look so hard.
posted by KeSetAffinityThread at 4:14 PM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

I had lunch with a male public library director today and he was wearing pretty much exactly what you describe except that he had pleated front chinos. I know a lot of public library director dudes and what you describe is about right. I think you can't go wrong with being a little more stylish without people feeling like you're being too fancy but in most public libraries I know, a suit would be a little bit of overkill; you'd wear one when you were at a special event, an evening event, or when you were having lunch with the Mayor or something. Clean & well-groomed. Decent haircut. Good belt. Good overcoat and scarf/hat when you're out in the weather. Weather-appropriate clothes generally. And it's okay in my book to be a librarian wearing a sportcoat with chinos as long as they are decent and you have the shoes to match. I often think that library directors and professors share a style. Slightly rumpled but ultimately dressed up, not business casual polo shirts and slacks.
posted by jessamyn at 4:15 PM on April 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

My fashionable 50-something male academic library director wears dress pants or chinos, button-down shirt or dress shirt, tie, sometimes jacket or sweater vest if it's cold, and polished dress shoes. On days he has meetings with deans and other muckety-mucks, he wears a suit. He likes the splash of color thing -- e.g. neutral pants and shirt, bright tie; or neutral tie and pants, bright shirt. Basically it sounds like you're Doing It Right.
posted by holyrood at 4:20 PM on April 26, 2012

The classic one-notch-more-casual-than-a-suit look is a navy blazer and gray flannel trousers. Still informal enough to work with button-down collar shirts; can be spiffed up a bit with a dress shirt. Easy, simple, goes with everything.
posted by neroli at 4:27 PM on April 26, 2012

Just add a sports jacket, and you're good. You can work tweed and a button down. Bow tie optional.
posted by Diablevert at 4:38 PM on April 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Just get some really nice, colorful ties and wear them with what you've already got.

(I work in a midsize public library.)
posted by rabbitrabbit at 4:48 PM on April 26, 2012

The usual advice where I'm from (the UK, so ymmv) is don't wear a tie without a jacket unless you want to look like a waiter. So you should either ditch the tie or add a sports jacket. Given your goal is to take a step up while working in an academic environment, I would add a sports jacket or, if you live somewhere warm, a linen jacket. Unless you're rocking a very coherent, fashiony top-to-bottom look, blazers are pretty hard to wear without looking like a member of the local Rotary Club/jazz choir.
posted by caek at 5:31 PM on April 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

What you're wearing, and add a tweed or a linen (depending on season) jacket for meetings. A suit is likely to be overkill except maybe for a public presentation at City Hall or similar.

Tweed jacket and button-down shirt are a time-honored combo in the bookish professions, so no worries about having to wear a spread-collar shirt.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:31 PM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

caek, US!blazer and UK!blazer are not the same entity. This is the iconic US!blazer.

Still prefer the tweed jacket, though.

Over here, tie without jacket is pretty much the norm for male librarians as well as for male schoolteachers.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:34 PM on April 26, 2012

Hey, I'm a librarian. I work in an academic library, but I am close to your age, and I have some ideas on what clothes might work.

I have a couple of male colleagues who dress pretty nicely. On more casual days (when they won't be seeing folks outside of the library), they wear nicer jeans or cords. On dressier days, they wear slacks. One colleague actually keeps a jacket or two hanging up in his office, so he can put it on when need be. I don't think he ever wears a tie.

I don't think I've seen these guys combine khakis with a jacket. This seems a bit young to me, but I'm not exactly a fashionista. I do know that I feel like I need to either go with super casual (ie jeans) or dressier pants. The stuff in the middle (ie khakis) seems wrong.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:00 PM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't work in a library - but I very much doubt you can go wrong with TWEED. Choose tweed.
posted by Ted Maul at 4:15 AM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

You don't mention shoes and accessories and grooming, but, in my interaction with male public library workers (that sounds weird, given that I am myself a male public library worker, but you know what I mean), that stuff is as likely, or even more likely, to be problematic as shirts and pants. And, often, this is the stuff that visually distinguishes admin/manager types from paraprofessionals and whatnot.

Good advice here already, but don't neglect the grown-up haircut, real watch, real belt, real dress shoes, etc.
posted by box at 6:09 AM on April 27, 2012

Flat-front pants (not pleated), Oxford shirts, ties, wingtips...that's what I'd go with if I were a dude.

Check out The Sartorialist for inspiration.
posted by sugarbomb at 9:14 AM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

« Older Help me be okay with looking like a dork.   |   Restore Photos Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.