Many academics revel in the freedom to not wear suits - I do too: the idea of strangling myself with a tie every day is very unappealing. The feeling is that we're employed and respected for our minds rather than our dress sense. There's also a very proper rebellion against the concept of 'power dressing': the academic exchange between student and lecturer shouldn't be about hierarchical power but about ideas
On the other hand, there's an argument that more formal clothes instil a degree of mental rigour, and that students respect well-dressed people because that's the way they're conditioned.
I'm torn on this one. I like suits, and the older and fatter I get, the more I appreciate the way a decent suit (especially one with elbow patches) hides all a man's pudgier bits. That said, my job basically consists of sitting down and typing or standing up and talking, none of which require specialist clothing. At conferences, I make a partial effort to be a bit neater, but not hugely. Some people wear their best suits, while others go halfway: a tweed jacket with a t-shirt, perhaps. Brian Cox, I feel, has a lot to answer for.
It's definitely an issue of identity politics. There are a lot of people who dress very carefully to give the impression that clothes don't matter, that they aren't drones in the corporate sector, whereas other colleagues dress to impress, even if it's not clear who exactly should be impressed. It may also be a matter of age and hierarchy: I'm not nervous about my colleagues or superiors' judgements any more, so I've relaxed a bit. When I went to a conference in Arkansas, even the academics' SUVs bore gun racks and Confederate flags: I'm not sure I'm ready for the cowboy-psycho look.
What do you think? What should the young(ish) academic-about-town be sporting this year? Bear in mind that even in the suit I had made specifically for me, I look like I've robbed an alien for his clobber. Perhaps we should all go back to gowns. One of my professors wore an academic gown and bow tie (with a full set of clothes, I should add) and it just looked like a man dressing up as an academic.
Zoot Horn, by the way, adheres to a classic 'mature rock god' look.
Incompetent Jim Dixon from the film of Amis's Lucky Jim
Alistair Sim as Professor Potter from The School for Scoundrels (1960 version highly recommended: 2006 remake is an excrescence)
Professor Brian Cox, ex-pop star, TV personage, physicist when time allows