Help a (male) librarian dress for success....and the summer
June 23, 2013 6:42 PM   Subscribe

What should I, as a new librarian working on a short-term contract at the reference desk, wear to work in the public library in the summer?

I'm a newly-minted (male) librarian. A 'guybrarian' if you will (...if you must). I've just started a new job in a public library where the dress code is a single sentence about dressing "appropriately" for "safety" and to be able to do my job, whatever that means. There is a fair range of style and dressiness among the staff. The circ staff usually dresses a little more casual (some wear jeans, tee-shirts, and hoodies, others wear business casual though most are a little more casual than that). Librarians have more of a range: right now, the women usually wear nice capris, light summer dresses, jersey dresses, or some dress up a bit and wear a nice skirt and blouse. I'm one of the few male librarians (I might be 1 of 2, the only other guy librarian I met is on-call) and I work on the reference desk. I want to dress up a bit since I'm trying to make a good impression (I'm currently on a short contract) and I also like to dress up a wee bit (without being costume-y) because it helps me feel more professional. Although we do tend to be more casual on Fridays/weekends; for example, on Friday I wore nice jeans, nice-ish shoes, and a button-up shirt.

I have plenty of stuff to wear in the fall when the weather gets cooler (I love me some tweed and herringbone with wool slacks or cords, and knit ties) but I'm a little stumped about how to dress well in the summer for both heat, style, professionalism, and to not stand out too much and be "that guy". I guess part of it will take some time to get to know the culture and norms better as well as the patrons.

Bearing all the above in mind: what can/should I wear in the summer? I've just bought some light khaki chinos (as well as med and dark brown), some more colourful dress shirts with some small subtle patterns on them (gingham, small check, etc.), a couple nice ties for days that I want to dress it up a bit, some twill nantucket(?) red chinos, and some plain white and blue dress shirts as well as Oxford BD collar shirts. I have a variety of dress shoes, leather Euro-style "sneakers", and I'm looking to get a pair of nice brown Italian loafers for more casual days. Is this okay? Any other suggestions? I'd rather err on the side of a bit more formal and/or stylish than drab (I HATE polo shirts, I find them uncomfortable and more sweaty and less breathable than light dress shirts). Any suggestions? Bonus for advice from other male librarians, but not absolutely necessary.

Thanks! :)
posted by 1000monkeys to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Note: I did, of course, do a search first and I saw a similar question but it was more geared towards a male librarian director, which is probably different than a temporary contracted reference librarian. Thanks!
posted by 1000monkeys at 6:43 PM on June 23, 2013

That all sounds fine to me, you'll be better dressed than many of the male librarians I work with, many of whom wear jeans. (As do I, sometimes, though usually dark ones.) I think dress shirts would probably be lighter than polos anyway. If you have a non-wool suit, you could also wear the suit pants with a dress shirt, no jacket.

Colour-wise, I'd mix it up with some navy/black trousers in there of some description, particularly if you're wearing colourful dress shirts to go along with them. For this type of situation, you'd want one eye-catching piece of clothing, not two. Save your red chinos for the plain white Oxford, for example. And if you do something like mix an orange-and-white striped Oxford with a lime green-and-white cross-hatched tie (I've seen this), be prepared to be labelled flamboyant. Or something.

I think it's good to dress a bit more formally sometimes, it lends you a bit more credence and authority which are both helpful when on the reference desk. Especially if you're in a position of having to rein the patrons in re eating/drinking, viewing porn, etc.
posted by Athanassiel at 6:58 PM on June 23, 2013

I assume you know about this but the Librarian Wardrobe blog can be helpful for inspiration. I usually think lightweight chinos/slacks and a short sleeved non-t-shirt top, something button down, maybe a sweatervest is just fine. Ties are usually overkill unless people in your workplace wear them. That said, they look nice especially people who can rock them them. It really sounds like what you have going is totally fine.

My male librarian style go-to people include Michael Stephens, Josh Neff, Aaron Schmidt, Joe Murphy, JP Pocaro and Dale McNeill (all of whom are googleable, none of whom really have a style blog per se) who always look nice and interesting and professional at the same time.. I think the main thing usually for male and female librarians is to look dressed for work. Wear appropriate accessories like a watch/belt/nice socks/earrings, be clean, be well-groomed, be awake and alert.
posted by jessamyn at 7:03 PM on June 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Where are you located?

Your wardrobe sounds totally fine and appropriate. Chinos are a really nice, neutral base. Dress shirts/cotton button-ups are definitely lighter weight than most polos. You really are probably ahead of the game compared to most librarians. Jessamyn is correct that you just need to look "dressed for work". I try to hit a sweet spot of comfortable, put together, "ready for work", and not the worst (shlubby/messy/sloppy) dressed librarian around. The bar is sort of low.

(I'm a female academic librarian from the West Coast who can get away with a multitude of things - skinny jeans, vintage plaid button-ups, hoodies, and canvas shoes are my go-to work outfit. If I were working on the East Coast, I'd probably be more formal.)
posted by kendrak at 7:22 PM on June 23, 2013

Would you consider wearing a guayabera over your chinos?
Here in a California public library my husband wears mostly guayaberas spring, summer, and fall. I think he looks cool, comfortable, and more approachable than another male librarian I know who sweats in his tweed and neck-tie.
posted by Atelerix at 7:24 PM on June 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks to everybody who responded so far, I really appreciate the advice! :)

kendrak: I am located in a suburb of Toronto. I did live on the West Coast of Canada for 15 years though, so I totally get the informality out West. Seeing anyone wear a tie outside of extremely formal occasions (hardly even at weddings or funerals) was the norm :) But I'm entering a new profession and I would like to be taken seriously (but be approachable) and as you say, the East Coast tends to be a little more conservative/dressed up.
posted by 1000monkeys at 7:25 PM on June 23, 2013

I'm a (male) public librarian. I'm not what you'd call stylish or fashionable.

My default is usually chino pants, a button-down long-sleeved shirt (usually oxford cloth, sometimes light cotton) and comfortable non-sneaker shoes. If I want to dress it up a little, I might add a tie, and switch to slacks and more serious shoes (and more dressy accessories in general). If I were going harder at that dress-for-the-job-you-want thing, I would wear slacks and more serious shoes all the time, and I would rock blazers.

Two things that Jess says that I especially agree with: first, accessories make a huge difference; and, second, make it clear that you're dressed for work. Also, if 'newly-minted' means that you're young, you might consider making some fashion choices to age you up a little. And, as others have noted, these standards will vary quite a bit depending on what part of the country you're in, what kind of library you're working at, and the kinds of patrons you're serving.
posted by box at 7:26 PM on June 23, 2013

Would you consider wearing a guayabera over your chinos?

So, the funny thing is I just learned what this was earlier today :D I don't think that would go over so well in Toronto. In fact, I've never seen a guayabera in Toronto...or at all, actually.
posted by 1000monkeys at 7:27 PM on June 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also, if 'newly-minted' means that you're young, you might consider making some fashion choices to age you up a little.

Well...young-ish. I'll be 33 soon. Is that still young? I am slightly younger looking though, does that count? LOL I did recently decide to stop colouring my hair so it's turning grey (well, more like random white strands), so even if I don't become a silver fox like Anderson Cooper, hopefully it will give me some cred :)

I definitely have been working on accumulating some decent accessories (a couple nice watches: one vintage manual watch with brown faux-croc leather straps and a black-faced diving style watch with changeable NATO (?) straps of various colours to match my outfits, a good selection of ties (and a couple bow-ties for good measure), and a few pairs of decent shoes. Also, being a good librarian, I do have a few nice cardigans on hand for cooler days (or days when the A/C is cranking) as well as a navy blazer and a few different sport coats. I forgot to mention, I also have some dressier slacks in grey, black, and dark brown but they are heavier and more for fall/winter or formal occasions I think.
posted by 1000monkeys at 7:32 PM on June 23, 2013

1000monkeys, you going to be just fine. Sounds like you have built a sharp wardrobe.
posted by michellenoel at 8:26 PM on June 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

As someone who worked in a library, if you wore khakis/chinos and a button up short sleeved shirt or a polo, you will be fine. A slightly more dressy version of that would be darker pants still made of a casual chino type fabric, like an army green, plus a fitted, long-sleeved white button up shirt tucked in. Remember to wear a white t-shirt under to make it look crisp. Roll the sleeves up and you look like someone who is having a casual moment in dressy clothes. Very snappy.

When you look for clothes, I think the difference you are looking for between what is typical for guybrarians and what you are after will be the fit. You will want something leaner, not baggy.
posted by Foam Pants at 9:17 PM on June 23, 2013

Sounds just like my library! Our lone male librarian wears chinos or cords, and during warm weather he wears short-sleeved, buttoned shirts with a white t-shirt underneath, and casual shoes. (He wears the same thing, but with a sweater or long-sleeved shirt in the winter.)

The wardrobe you describe sounds great, 1000monkeys! And congratulations on the new librarianship!
posted by sarcasticah at 10:01 PM on June 23, 2013

Yes, the wardrobe does sound great...Please take the time [and money] to be sure your pants are the right length and that your shirt sleeves are not too long.
posted by calgirl at 10:25 PM on June 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Thanks everybody, this is very helpful and I feel more confident that I'm aligned with being both professional, comfortable, and approachable. Feel free to add to the discussion of course, I just wanted to thank everybody so far for the helpful comments :)
posted by 1000monkeys at 4:57 AM on June 24, 2013

I think what you describe is fine. I will caution though... what's the AC situation at your work? I find that I can't dress all that summery in summer, because the climate-control at my library is so chilly that I'm wearing sweaters year-round.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:16 AM on June 24, 2013

Good question, rabbitrabbit! I've only worked a few shifts and so far it hasn't been that cold but I am stashing a nice blue cardigan in the back office in case I need it. Thanks!
posted by 1000monkeys at 9:40 AM on June 24, 2013

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