Dress Code: Back To (Grad) School

Illustration for article titled Dress Code: Back To (Grad) School

"I need help," wrote a reader. "What do I wear as a grad student?" Fall brings that back-to-school new-clothes urge to most people, but for some of you, "school" is no longer about fleece jackets and comfy pants.

Illustration for article titled Dress Code: Back To (Grad) School

"Here's the thing," continued the letter-writer. "I'm still a student, but I don't want to feel so...collegiate!" We feel you, sister. And sartorially-speaking, grad school is a sort of limbo. You're still slogging to early class and logging hours in the library (in plenty of cases, far more hours) but you're also an adult in a new stage of life - especially if you've spent some time out of school - and sometimes, you're teaching. I called on women who are mid-Ph.D, in med school, in and out of law school, getting MFAs - you name it, they've dressed for it. And I got what I hope are some helpful tips!

  • The "Dressing Like An Adult" rules apply. There are plenty of ways you can stay comfy and add a little polish. Of course, in this case feel no need to jettison the Jansport!
  • "Don't get too comfy." This was something a few people said: if you're going to be going back to the workforce soon - even if just for the summer - "it helps if you've kept one foot in the real-world closet, so to speak" as one lawyer friend put it. "Otherwise the sweats-to-suits transition is just too brutal." Interesting - and not something that would ever have occurred to me!
  • Use common sense. If you're in a lab, you'll probably not want sweatshirt ties flopping around. But you don't need me to tell you that! Then too, see what others are like. Some law and MBA students may be a bit dressier - even then, you can probably still wear whatever you want.

If You're Teaching:

  • Don't be too revealing. A no-brainer, but it always bears repeating. In general, you don't want to have to think or worry about your clothes for a second. You can't go wrong with "neat" and "professional." (Even if that one physics prof does wear shorts and Birkenstocks.)
  • When in doubt, avoid jeans. It's probably a non-issue, but if it's going to freak you out, just go with the slacks or dress.
  • A little differentiation from students is always nice. I remember one TA who always wore pajamas to class; it was the subject of much conversation — this is probably not what anyone wants. Cat hair is also undesirable. As are visible holes.
  • You're in luck, because you always have the example of professors to guide you here - sometimes it's nice to take the guesswork our of it. (Again: not that Physics professor.)

For Those Dressy Occasions:
Be it conferences, interviews, cocktails, even some assistantships and practicums, you'll want something dressier in your arsenal. As one woman put it, "you can't go wrong with a suit." But a sheath dress and jacket work, too - and heels or good flats dress up anything.

I'm not getting into many specifics here because the name of the game is really your comfort level in all senses. However, if you're looking for a little inspiration, I ran across this image on the Sartorialist, and couldn't help thinking that it was pretty pitch-perfect!

Illustration for article titled Dress Code: Back To (Grad) School

And when I asked one friend what she was doing for back-to-grad school, she sent me the following APC image, with the words "(in my dreams, that is.)" Still, inspiration is all:

Illustration for article titled Dress Code: Back To (Grad) School

And now, let's hear from you, students and former students — what advice do you have for our letter-writer and her sisters in arms? Spill!


For all of our handy Dress Code guides, go here.




I just started grad school, but the walk is 3 miles a day up and down lots of hills. I know I could always carry a different pair of shoes, but are there any shoe suggestions that AREN'T sneakers but would still be comfy to walk in?