Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dressed for Success: Caps & Gowns

T'is the season for graduation ceremonies. Around the country graduate candidates are putting on traditional regalia, listening to the wisdom of scholars before them, and celebrating with friends and family.

Personally, I think the outfits worn by graduates look at least a little out of place in modern society. It seems a bit silly to be wearing an over-sized robe and a hat that is essentially a square stuck to your head with a tassel that smacks you in the face everytime you turn to talk to someone. Of course, there are other traditional elements of academic regalia including hoods, cords, stoles, pins, and more that are applicable to different occasions and distinctions.

Academic dress, though it seems strange today has both a historical tradition and a modern purpose.
The program given out at my university’s graduation reads, “The wearing of caps, gowns, and hoods at college and university occasions dates back to the formation of universities in Europe, beginning around the 12th century. The ordinary dress of the scholar, whether student or teacher, as the dress of clerics, Historians suggest that gowns and hoods were the simplest and most effective method of staying warm in the unheated, stone buildings that housed medieval scholars.” Whatever the origin of traditional academic dress, today we still don caps and gowns for special occasions. People like tradition, doing what has done before them. By wearing clothes that are not everyday attire, we help give rituals such as graduation ceremonies the feel of being a very special occasion.

On a side note, personally, I do not like the common self-impressed nature of academic ceremonies, especially graduations. It should indeed be a celebration of the accomplishments of the graduates, but shouldn’t be taken quite so seriously. It seems to be the faculty and speakers not the graduates who may need to “lighten up.”

I think that graduation regalia is important and meaningful, but not to be taken too seriously. It is a bitter-sweet occasion marking the end of an academic career, but one that merits wearing a baggy robe and a silly hat.

American Council on Education: Academic Dress

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Everyone encounters clutter somewhere in their lives. Sometimes it’s a long looming to-do list or the constant bombardment by advertising messages, but many times it’s simply the volume of things, objects, items that surround us in our lives.

Cars, bedrooms, tables, and floors become the convenient storage place for things that we’re too busy to deal with at the time. Eventually, things that were significant are forgotten and insignificant things that we shouldn’t keep never get thrown away, such as a receipt from long-ago night. A duplicate item might be mistakenly bought because the original was forgotten.
Some people are very organized and almost obsessive about maintaining a clutter-free space, while others allow things to pile up until there’s no more than a small path through the mounds of stuff. Most of us are somewhere in between.

Thinking about how the things we own affects our lives makes me wonder where we each get our clutter-gene. I’m sure part of it is what we grow up around and how are parents treat the physical things in their lives during our childhoods. It is probably also influenced by our personalities. I often lament the inaccuracies of poorly crafted and applied stereotypes, but they do exist for a reason. Accountants are known for being organized because their jobs require it and artist are stereotyped as scattered and unconcerned with maintaining orderly workspaces.

For me, the fight against clutter is a constant battle that goes back and forth. My stuff will start to take over when I least expect and then I get into a cleaning frenzy to beat back the clutter than keeps creeping up. Certain spaces I tend to keep very clean, but others deteriorate rapidly, filling up with items that I use on a regular basis. It’s a personal battle. I know I function better when my environment is clean and uncluttered, but I can never seem to keep it that way. It’s hard to find the motivation to get moving and tackle the mess.

Clutter is a part of all of our lives and we each have a different comfort level when it comes to the amount of clutter we can stand. Finding that balance between doing important or enjoyable things and combating clutter is the hard part. I encourage you to evaluate the amount of clutter in your life. Maybe it’s time to de-clutter your life and relieve some stress by de-cluttering your space. It can be therapeutic. I promise I’ll join you in the effort.

Declutter 101

Friday, May 8, 2009

Frightening or Funny?

When most Americans today hear the word “clown,” if they’re lucky they think of Ronald McDonald or Bozo. If not, images of demented and horrifically disturbing clown characterizations such as those in the movie It come to mind. Many people claim to be terrified by clowns, even though they don’t even know the official name for their irrational fear. There’s also the connotation created by local party clowns who may be untrained and unwanted at a children’s birthday party.

What has twisted the image of a clown into commercialism and fright?

Clowning has a long history and tradition, but in recent decades the image of a clown has morphed and been warped. Clowns such as Emmett Kelly and Lou Jacobs are a bygone breed. They were clowns of the great tent-circuses known as “mud shows.” However, these are not the clowns that today’s public recognizes.

Modern clowns wear less make up that does not hide their faces, but simply accentuates and exaggerates their features. They engage their audience in a way that pokes fun, but are not seeking to be threatening or humiliating to the spectators.
In my view, truly good clowning uplifts people. The clown is the butt of the joke and makes their audience triumphant through the clown’s bumbling failures and successes. A clown pokes fun at humanity and general and rather than claiming victims who become the object of laugher, invites the spectators to laugh at themselves.

Good clowning can certainly be an art, though a vastly underrated one. Circus giants such as Ringling Bros. and Cirque du Soleil are continuing the clown tradition, but adapting it to the needs of their productions. Small outfits such as Vermont youth circus, Circus Smirkus are bringing young people into the artform.

The public paradigm about clowns may be a difficult one to change, but if shows such as the Greatest Show on Earth continue to monitor and craft the interaction the clown performers have with the public, ideas may change, even if it’s only one person at a time.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Derby Hat Day

Today is Derby Day. The infamous Kentucky Derby seems to still attract some of the biggest hats imaginable. It seems that hats have always been associated with a day at the racetrack, but they creep into the rest of our lives too.

Hats can have great symbolism and can express individual personality like no other piece of clothing. They can be functional or decorative. They help one fit in or stand out. They can mark a milestone or achievement. They can even be a symbol of shame.

Hard hats, base-ball caps, and wool stocking caps can keep you safe or keep you cool or warm as weather dictates. Some stunning chapeaus often adorn the heads of women heading to church on Easter Sunday. Picture a sea of graduates wearing mortar boards with tassels and everyone’s heard rumors of the shame of wearing a dunce cap.

Some people wear the same hat all the time, or never wear a hat at all. Some hats are compulsory such as those worn by the military or employees in other industries such as foodservice or construction.

There are even figures that are famous for their hats. Who hasn’t heard of Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat? Images of Uncle Sam always include a hat. And who would Charlie Chaplin be without his derby? Could you picture an old western movie with John Wayne hat-less?

Different types of hats go in and out of fashion, but they will be around forever. I’m going to pull out one of my favorite hats in honor of the Kentucky Derby and continue the long tradition of fancy hats.

Want to see some fancy hats? Check out the ones that this lady makes: http://www.ladydianehats.com/