Does, and should, my appearance in the classroom influence my credibility?

This question is one I’ve given a lot of thought to in the past few weeks, especially after discussing it in the Contemporary Pedagogy class earlier this semester.  I’d like to think that the way I dress would not affect how I am perceived, but that assumption is probably short-sighted.  My credibility may already be undermined by the fact that I am a female, even if it is a subconscious and unintentional bias.  And I likely will be close in age, or at least appear close in age, to many of my students, which would could make it easier to not take me very seriously as an educator.  But I think I’m not willing to go out of my way to dress very formally to teach.  I’d rather be comfortable and practical, and it wouldn’t hurt to be a little more relatable to students.

A similar question is concerned with the way I choose to be addressed by the faculty and by the students.  I think this would affect the relationship I have with students, but I would rather it not.  For example, I do not wish to be called “Dr.” so-and-so, because an informal salutation would be more relatable and maybe approachable.  But if there is an atmosphere of disrespect that unfolds as a result of being on a first-name basis, I would in that case consider being called Dr. to establish my credentials and make it clear that I should be respected.  But that is a decision that has to be made early, because it would be even worse to go by my first name initially and then change my mind—I don’t think that would go over well.  I think part of this depends on the culture of the university, or of the department in which I teach, so maybe I will have less control over the outcome than I’m anticipating.  That might make it easier, I suppose, by avoiding the need to make a decision!

I would like to think, as one of my classmates in Contemporary Pedagogy mentioned, that having a PhD would warrant respect and credibility in the eyes of my students automatically, regardless of things that seem silly and unimportant (like what I wear or how I choose to be addressed).  But there is a nagging part of me that wonders if this is true.  Maybe this also depends on the general culture and atmosphere of the university, but if not, I think it’s something I can establish and instill early in the semester by having an open and transparent discussion about these things.  I don’t mean that I would address appearances or names directly, but setting the tone at an early stage that the class will be professional and respectful towards everyone, including myself, could be a good start.