The phrases “dressing for grad school“ and “dressing for success” should be synonymous, given that your ultimate grad school goal is to succeed in your respective field of study. You have a lot on your plate. While taking the Mark Zuckerberg approach and wearing the same gray shirt every day may seem more and more appealing, here are a few things to keep in mind to help maintain your sanity, keep your bank account in the black, and dress for success.
Take your attire seriously and be taken seriously.
Whether you’re doing an interview, a presentation, class lecture, or defending your thesis, taking your attire seriously will result in you being taken seriously. (Take a cue from some well-respected faculty and advanced grad students in your department to help you get on the right track.) If you’re lecturing in class and you’re dressed professionally, your students will take what you’re saying seriously—even though you may be younger than the average professor.
Think outside the box, but inside your budget.
Sale racks are great, but sometimes you need to take it a step further. Don’t rule out second-hand stores and consignment shops, where you can find some great items, often for an even better price than on the sale racks at department stores. These places are great for finding items like lightly worn blazers and sport coats that can be dressed up or down.
Another option is to invest in a few high quality, versatile staple items that will last awhile and can be dressed up or down as needed. Outlet stores and online sales are your friend here.
Mix and match staples.
Having those versatile staple items in your wardrobe will give you more options than having numerous specific outfits. In the end, you’ll have to make fewer decisions, letting you focus your energy on what really matters: your research.
Showcase your personality.
Don’t go too over the top with your clothing choices, but showcase your personality, and allow the work you’re doing to show through. Don’t let others get distracted by an obnoxious scarf or tie you have on.
Streamline and simplify.
The level of formality your outfit requires will depend on the culture at your institution and in your discipline. Regardless of how formal your attire is, keeping it simple and streamlined will give you more options and require less effort in the long run.
In the end, the key is to dressing for success in grad school is all about versatility, whether you’re going to a lecture, a conference, a late night research session in the library, or your favorite place to grab a drink. Don’t overthink it, but certainly don’t just throw on any old sweater to go defend your dissertation.