I've been thinking about clothes a lot since I got this job. In Korea professors dress much more formally than in the US. There are several reasons for this. I'll keep thinking about it, but I think these are the big three.
1) Koreans tend to dress more formally and don't have the same sort of resentment against the white shirt, tie, suit look that many Westerners do. It's partially because a generation ago getting a white collar job was such an amazing accomplishment.
2) Dressing less formally than the deans and university presidents would be disrespectful-- like if you went to dinner with them and sat down first, or started eating first. The person who sets the standard of dress is at the top.
3) Our students (not all, but many) dress really well, too. Sometimes you look at the students (esp. the female students) and you think you're looking at a bunch of women in a 1960s secretarial pool or something. Blouses. Nylons. High Heels. Make-up. The students are getting to dress up for the first time-- in high school they may have had uniforms. They certainly weren't allowed to wear make-up to school. Some of them just can't wait to graduate and land a job to start dressing up.
So... here's three days of me on my way to my office or a class/ or on my way home. No, I did not teach in the middle outfit... that was just sitting in my office. So that I don't get bored with all this formal dressing I decided to adopt a look that is usually mix-and-match, instead of wearing a matching pair of pants/skirt and jacket (like in the last photo). I save that look for days with big meetings.
So, when I went to SEM I wore nice clothing. More formal than most people there (see my previous post). On the other hand, I looked like a million bucks and it wasn't all boring pieces. I guess I really went for McGranahan's "flair" and "scarves." But Ethnomusicologists definitely dress less formally than Asian Studies scholars... and junior faculty trying to prove they are professional also dress fairly formally, so I felt at home around "my" people-- other people like me in postdocs and first jobs, and scholars of Korean performance. Except one Korean graduate student, who even presented, but seemed to have only brought one outfit with him. I was sort of amazed, actually. Because it wasn't unnoticeable-- it was a sweatshirt type top with bold stripes in aqua and grey. No one would look at it and not remember he'd worn it the previous day.
These are four of my students. Adorable, right?
What to wear in your Korean teaching job?
If you're coming to teach in a Korean university, and you don't know what to wear/bring-- go formal. If you come here and try to wear casual chinos and a button up shirt and a sweater all the time you will be perceived as being much less serious about your job than you probably are (and you'll look like your students). Korean male professors wear a suit and a tie everyday. They may take the jacket off for most of the day but they have it wtih them and it's a black, grey, dark blue, sometimes brown suit. The shirt is oxford style. The tie might not be snazzy, but it's there. Women have more leeway- but as in all aspects of life in Korea, no cleavage. None. Never. You can wear a skirt that is far above your knee without issue, but never show cleavage. No spaghetti straps or sleeveless unless that will be hidden all day under a light jacket or cardigan. Women who work language teacher jobs (that might be you) can often get away with a cardigan and I've seen some distinctly frumpy outfits, but the better your job is, the more likely you should make sure what you're wearing always looks new, ironed/dry-cleaned, and reasonably formal. In Korea formal for women means a jacket, a skirt of just about knee length (mid calf and lower is not considered formal) or trousers, and a blouse.
On the other hand, if you got a job teaching kindergarteners (and yes, your job is all about earning your for-profit institution money), then wear whatever you want, esp. if you have blue eyes, blond hair, and boundless energy, because you're really just there to be foreign, fun, and full of games.