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We have all been told that interview-appropriate attire is a must-have for the college applications process. There is a barrage of literature out there on college interview etiquette ranging from black vs. navy to how to send an appropriate follow-up email. But make no mistake, that suit/dress should not be left home in your closet when it comes time to make the move in the fall. Consider these scenarios where you may want to have the option of dressing up that have absolutely nothing to do with your cousin Katie’s wedding, your great aunt’s funeral, or your high school graduation.

Scenario 1: The Freshmen Formal (What? Some colleges have that? Yes, yes they do.)

Prom was lame. You went with your friends ironically and ended up at an arcade by midnight wearing your favorite high-tops that your mother begged you to chuck ever since they got covered in acrylics during the final touches to your Studio portfolio. Still, your dress was AMAZING because even though you didn’t give a crap about the dance, you were sure as hell going to look great brooding at the dinner table.

Now, three weeks into your freshman year, class council reps start making noise about some “freshmen formal.” You ask around and, sure enough, it’s nothing more than college prom. Ugh. Obviously you’re not going.

Your roommates have a different idea, however, because unlike you they LOVED their prom and cannot wait to relive the best night of their lives; this time in higher heels and with a little more booze. Grudgingly, you come to the conclusion that this could be an opportunity for amusement beyond your wildest dreams and reluctantly agree to be your roommates’ wing-woman.

The day of the dance arrives and you smirk as you think about how great you’re going to look in your high school prom dress (of course you’re going to wear it because no one here has seen you in it, which is a damn shame) while remaining completely abject about the whole thing. After your last class of the day, thoughts of all the drunken disasters you have a front row seat to imbue you with glee. You walk to your closet, fling open the door, and…realize you didn’t actually bring the dress because you never anticipated needing it.

You text your roommates: “can’t come tonight. hwk. sry.” You change into the comfiest pair of sweats you own, turn on Netflix, and prepare to stay up until your roommates get back around 3 am.

Scenario 2: Org Holiday Formal a.k.a. You Escaped Greek Life Formals Only to Wear a Tux to a History Society Dinner

You consider your suitemate to be your best friend on campus, but you are so glad you did not end up rushing freshmen spring like he did. Sure, his social calendar is fuller than yours and sometimes you’re jealous of all the crazy stories he never seems to run out of, but you are much happier being Treasurer of the History Society, campus rep for a local charity, and research assistant to the chairperson of the History Department. Sophomore year has been nothing but a delicate balancing act of work-study hours, classes, and extracurriculars and you have had zero time to party like Sean does.

First semester has gone by in a blur, and you cannot count the number of all-nighters you pulled frantically trying to finish papers for that one philosophy class you dread but have to take because it fulfills your Epistemology Gen-Ed requirement.

So, you miss the reminder emails from the History Society President about Holiday Dinner with the Department and its formal dress code for EBoard members. Two days before the dinner, the Secretary asks you if he could borrow a pair of trouser socks and you look at him like he’s grown three heads. His brow furrows and he frowns as you ask him what the heck he is talking about. “Uhh we have the formal dinner on Friday, remember?” he says. You blanche and race back to your dorm hoping to magically discover that your mother has overnighted your graduation suit.

Sadly, your fleeting hope for a miracle is quickly squelched as you rummage through your drawers only to find pair after pair of jeans with nothing but t-shirts and white athletic socks in accompaniment. Sean offers to let you borrow his suit, but seeing as he was his high school’s star running back all four years, it drowns you.

You end up texting one of your friends who plays in the symphony and he lets you borrow his tux for the evening. Upon your arrival (5 minutes late) the President, dressed in a navy suit and striped silk tie, gives you a quizzical look and you feel like a penguin. And an idiot.

Moral of the Story

If you are a guy, bring a dark suit, or at least nice chinos and a sport coat.

If you are a gal, bring a cocktail dress, skirt/pantsuit, or tasteful blouse and skirt/slacks combo.

If you identify outside of the gender binary, choose whatever option suits you (pun intended).

You never know where you may be invited, who you may be invited by, and what the dress code may be. Perhaps circumstances are nothing like the above mentioned situations. Other possible scenarios include:

  • a surprise networking event invitation from a boss or professor
  • an unexpected date night
  • a mixer invite from a friend who has gone Greek
  • an internship interview for next semester/summer

College is the time to perfect the art of rolling out of bed and getting to class within 10 minutes, but it is also the place where you begin build the foundation for your future. And sometimes, that calls for a little bit of dress-up.

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