Playing dress-up at school

Why ditching your beloved sweatpants may be a smart move this fall

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Dressing up, as opposed to down, for class shows others you’re confident and you put your best effort into all you do.
Dressing up, as opposed to down, for class shows others you’re confident and you put your best effort into all you do.
Photo: 

In my first two years as a Queen’s student I would never dare wear a pair of high heels to class although I had no problem wearing them to work everyday throughout the summer—the idea seemed pretentious.

There is nothing quite like the sound of high-heeled shoes pounding the pavement on an early summer morning as—in typical summer-student fashion—I race into work late.

Nevertheless, it is that sound when I walk into the lobby of my office building that makes me feel like the most powerful woman in the world—or at the least the CEO of my company. Before I graduated high school I declared to a friend that I’d never be one of those university students who wore pyjama pants and a hoodie to class. I didn’t think my love for fashion had to be sacrificed because I had a full timetable and plenty of 8:30 a.m. lectures. All that changed when I entered my first year. All I ever I wanted to wear were my grey Queen’s sweatpants and my blue Queen’s hoodie. Is it engrained in us to dress down as soon as we enter the hallowed halls of Queen’s, or any university for that matter? Do we have some sort of social obligation as students to wear what is most comfortable and convenient?

Greg Bell, an image consultant from Prime Impressions in Kingston—a business that helps people re-evaluate the message they send through the clothes they wear—said being a student is definitely a time in life where style isn’t always the main focus.

“It can be important to dress up for important occasions like a job interview, or especially something like an internship,” he said. “But this is also a point in your learning life where you can take it easy with what you wear.”

Although Bell doesn’t think wearing sweatpants to lectures occasionally is a big deal, he does believe what you wear does a lot to communicate the kind of student you are.

“We’re always communicating both verbally and non-verbally,” he said. “If you’re in a seminar doing a presentation and you look a mess, then people might not take you as seriously.

“People notice the way we dress, even on a subconscious level. It’s a communication thing.” Emily Davies and Alicia McGovarin, both ArtSci ’11, think putting a little bit of extra work into one’s appearance before going to class can make someone feel a lot more confident.

“Dressing up for class is a good thing because when you look good on the outside you increase your level of self-confidence,” Davies said. “When in a lecture situation or academic environment when you feel confident, you’re more on the ball academically.”

McGovarin said she wore a uniform in high school and doesn’t agree with people who decide wearing pyjamas to class is acceptable.

“I wouldn’t go to class in pyjamas. You need to disassociate your relaxing environment from your academic one,” she said. “Wearing pyjama pants to class gives off the impression that you’re lazy.”

Laura Cuthberston, ArtSci ’11, finds pulling herself together for class not only makes her feel more confident, but helps her focus better.

“I like to find a middle ground in terms of what I wear to class. I don’t get too dressed up but if I just wear sweat pants to class I lose the ability to work hard and learn because I’m not in the zone,” she said.

“It’s important to wear something you’re comfortable in, but also something that’s school-appropriate.” But not all students feel that putting forth an effort every morning is important. Calvin Kwong, Sci ’10, said he never really gives his clothing choices much thought.

“I’m too lazy to care. The only time I ever get dressed up for class is if I have to make a presentation,” he said.

Will McCormick, ArtSci ’10, shares Kwong’s sentiment.

“I pretty much just wake up and wear whatever I have on hand,” he said.

Patrick Moran, a philosophy professor, says he does notice if students dress distinctly in class.

“If a student dresses nicely you do notice that, but in a big lecture they’re still part of the general crowd,” he said.

“Dressing up for class still does show that students have a certain level of self-respect, though.” Bell said putting effort into one’s wardrobe is just one way to show that you’re taking good care of yourself.

“It’s important to look after ourselves, not in a preening Paris Hilton kind of way, but I find that if you take care of the little details like feeling confident in what you wear, it frees you up to deal with bigger things,” he said.

So with the summer waning, this is the ideal time for students to ditch their usual student garb and keep up with the smart wear they may have adopted in jobs over the course of the summer.

When getting up for class this semester, rather that automatically reaching for your sweat pants, try to give your wardrobe choices a little something extra—it might make a difference not only in the way you look, but in your outlook too.

—With files from Katie Elphick

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