by Rachel B.

I am a curly hair person. When I was younger, my hair looked like a cross between Hermione Granger’s and pre-makeover Princess Mia. After many years of trial and error, I’ve settled on a routine that usually goes something like:

DAY 1: Wash using conditioner only. Comb when wet. Apply curling gel. Scrunch, let air dry.

DAY 2: Dampen hair. Apply curl crème. Scrunch, let air dry.

DAY 3: Wash using shampoo + conditioner. Comb when wet…

As such, when traveling, I usually take the following products with me, if I can:

fulltolietriesClockwise from left, we have:
Curling gel, body wash, contact lens solution, foundation, conditioner, moisturizer, deodorant, curling crème, acne cream, toothpaste, mascara, toothpaste

A lot of these items are non-negotiable, to me: I have a sensitive front tooth, so I need the special toothpaste. I can’t stand most hotel body washes–it just makes my skin feel dried out and gross; ditto hotel conditioners (or worse, shampoo + conditioner combos) which dry out and damage my hard-won curls. And, if I’m traveling, it usually means that I plan to get dressed up and put on makeup at least once.

Unfortunately, these are all conceivably liquids or gels, except the deodorant and mascara. Apparently back in 2010, the TSA decided that, while makeup not in tubes was a threat, makeup in tubes was obviously, not. Since I usually travel on Southwest domestically, which still lets you check bags for free, I tend to pack these all in my toiletries bag, and check my suitcase.

Now, back in February, I was lucky enough to get a campus interview at a university in New England. I scoured the internet for general campus visit advice, and many suggested not checking your bag, because you don’t want to make the person picking you up wait any longer than they have to. Good impressions and all that. I didn’t have to worry about that, exactly, however, I was going to need to catch a bus pretty soon after my flight landed, to get from Boston to where I was going. And, plus, leaving the fate of one’s clothes to the whims of the baggage handling gods right before an interview is generally a bad idea.

So, the paring down began. Here’s what my TSA compliant bag looked like:


And here’s what I ended up bringing:


There were a lot of decisions that went into bag. Makeup was a must for the interview, so in went my foundation. I mapped out my hair plan as follows: do my day 1 routine on the day of my flight. The next day was interview day, do day 2 as normal. Day 3, wash in the morning. So, in went the conditioner, and the curling creme. My face routine was sacrificed: I would skip two nights of putting on the acne cream, and also skip putting on the sunscreen/moisturizer–the foundation’s SPF rating was about equivalent to it, at least. I could have, theoretically, brought the acne cream, plus my prescription for it, but I really didn’t feel like having a potential argument with a TSA agent over the fact that, yes, I am a grown-ass 28 year-old, and yes, I have acne*.

The bag was, as you can see, overflowing and hard to close, which is very much against TSA guidelines. But, as a friendly- and youthful-looking white woman, my odds of getting pulled aside by the TSA for advanced screening are approximately nil. Of course, the Venn diagram of “People who might want to use “specialty” hair care products that can be hard to find in some places (and sure as heck aren’t given away for free by hotels)” and “People who get pulled over by the TSA for special screening” does happen to have a fairly large overlapping section, and I realize I’m lucky not to be in that space. My baggie: a nice little collision of the ramifications of security theatre and Anglo-centric beauty standards.

I also needed to plan my wardrobe. Linguistics in the US and Canada is a pretty casual field: the sure-fire way to spot that somebody has an interview at the Linguistic Society of America annual conference is if they’re wearing a suit. Obviously, there’s a range of formality, a lot of it, naturally, predicated on gender, race, and age: the old, white, male tenured professor can get away with jeans and a T-shirt, while the young, female, graduate student of color is probably going to be wearing a nice dress, a cardigan, opaque hosiery, and dress shoes. But full on suits are rare for anybody.

My interview was with an English department, which (at least, we’re told), is a more formal field. The interview being in New England, in February, meant that a pantsuit, or slacks + blazer were a must, for me**. I tried the consignment shops by me first. I live in an area of Columbus heavily populated by young professionals, so Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, J. Crew, and various other generic “working professional” brands are pretty over represented there. I found a blouse for $12, which I bought, and a blazer which I put on hold, but struck out on pants. Off to mall I went.

I eventually found a blazer and pants (Thanks to Cindy for providing feedback all the way from Belgium!), for a total of $160. Footwear would be a pair of black ankle boots, purchased along with a matching brown pair from the Willowbrook Mall Sears in 2003 or so, for the ensemble you see below:


I was all set to go. Mostly.

Now, the interview was in New England. In February. Meaning that my outerwear also needed to look professional, and also importantly, appropriate for the weather: over- or underdressing would potentially signal a lack of research on the area, and thus, a lack of sincere interest in the position. I have a black pea coat, that, once de-cat-haired, would do best fine.

Adorable, and with bonus multi-colored fur that shows up on whatever clothes you want to wear!

My hat, on the other hand, looks like this:


I love this hat. It was knitted for me by my college roommate; my husband has a matching one. When I wear it running, I get lots of smiles from people on the trail–I look slightly ridiculous, and (I think) they know I know I look slightly ridiculous, but want to wear the hat anyway.


For a job interview, though, it wouldn’t do. Likewise these gloves:

I am terrible at keeping track of gloves. These were purchased for me from a local Kroger by my husband about a month before the interview, who swore up and down that he couldn’t find anything without either (1) OSU logos or (2) sparkles*** on it, neither of which are particularly my bag.

So, off to Target I went, to try and find a hat and gloves that would work, for $17. In the end, my outerwear interview ensemble looked like the following:


And here’s what I wore on the travel day over:


The blue dress is from a local shop here in Columbus (Tiger Tree). It’s been one of my mainstay conference outfits. Here, you can see how I usually look when presenting at conferences:

People always ask me after talks about incorporating gesture into my work on Jewish English. I can’t imagine why.

The blazer was a lucky sale find at Anthropologie, bought back in early January for about $60, when I knew that campus interviews in the next month or so were a possibility, but I wasn’t ready to entirely commit to putting together an interview wardrobe, mostly out of fear of jinxing myself.

Through all this, I was keenly aware of how lucky and privileged I was, not only to get a campus interview, but to have the means to dress “appropriately”. My husband works full time, meaning that we had the financial means not only for me to do the shopping I needed to do, but also to front the cost of airfare, to be reimbursed later. This financial burden of going to conferences is discussed pretty frequently on my Facebook wall: for conference travel, many graduate students are primarily funded via reimbursement, and of course, funds for building a professional wardrobe aren’t covered. And for those who are graduated but underemployed, the situation is even worse. Some conferences have been making steps to address these problems–adding a lower cost underemployed category for registration, for example, or adding more virtual attendance options–but this is still an issue that needs a lot of work. And I have no idea how all of this is resolved for campus interviews: I imagine a lot of behind-the-scenes lending of clothes happens, along with, potentially awkward emails with departments trying to get them to pay for travel up front.****

*My insurance company doesn’t seem to understand “adult acne”. When I first filled my prescription, I got to stand there while the CVS pharmacist explained to me, that, since I was over the age of 25, he’d need to get special permission for my insurance to cover it. Which they did, eventually. But still!

**I am not that good at sitting appropriately in skirts. I apparently ruined our formal 3rd grade class photo by both sitting in the front row, and failing to keep my legs together.

***In case you’re starting to sense a “Rachel is kind of uncomfortable with some aspects of performing femininity” theme, yes, you are correct.

****In case you’re wondering, this all has a happy ending for me, with a job offer, and an Assistant Professor position lined up for the fall.

Rachel B. is a PhD candidate in the Department of Linguistics at The Ohio State University. Her work focuses on Yiddish in contact with other languages. In her spare time, she plays French horn, runs long distances, and aggressively cuddles her cats.