Playing Dress-Up

I’m not the most fashion-forward college student ever to exist, partly due to lack of talent, and partly due to never giving any importance to my appearance. However, over the last few months, I have been slowly understanding the reasons why dressing the way you’d like to look as an adult in the real world is important.

For those of us with busy schedules and little to no interest in keeping up with appearances it can be hard to see why the time investment is worthwhile. I first convinced myself to try it by deciding to dress as the best version of me for a few months and seeing how it would turn out.

A few months in, the effects of the change became evident. Because of the ten minutes I spent picking my clothes out for the day, I no longer worried about whether I looked the part when I walked into any room. Being comfortable in my surroundings made it easier to reach for professional opportunities, and it quickly became evident that it opened plenty of doors as well.

For the first week, it took me several tries to put together outfits that looked good and fit my schedule for the day, which I truly saw as a huge waste of time. However, with practice came efficiency. I quickly established go-to outfits and didn’t have to even think about my clothes, whether it was when I wanted to go to dinner with my family or head to the library for a few hours.


            That’s not to say that it was easy. For someone with a mind geared more toward science, looking at aesthetics was somewhat difficult, so I established some rules for myself. Now, remember, I have little to no ability to dress myself, as my friends and family often remind me, so take this with a grain of salt. Make your own guidelines, and don’t be afraid to break or change them whenever necessary, according to your tastes and lifestyle.


  1. Buy shoes and outerwear in colors that you can see yourself wearing in multiple settings, formal as well as more casual. Black is always an option, but camel coats and nude heels are perfectly acceptable and versatile. White shoes can make any casual outfit look put-together, so pick a pair you like and learn how to keep them relatively clean.

  2. Speaking of cleanliness, keep everything you wear clean and be aware of anything in your schedule that may not work with a component of your outfit. For example, no suede or white shoes on rainy days. Maintenance tools such as lint rollers and pill shavers have saved (shaved?) many a sweater in the cold seasons, so keep that in mind as well.

  3. One pair of light wash jeans and one pair of black jeans can often cover most casual clothes, but find pairs that fit and always monitor all black clothes for fading over time. Pick jeans based on comfort as well as the cut that works best with your other clothes and your body type.

  4. Keep at least one skirt/pantsuit and two or three conservative dresses on hand at all times. It’s always better to be overly prepared for professional events than to be the student the interviewer remembers for her “comfortable” clothes! For students who volunteer, find a pair of comfortable and presentable khakis to pair with those often less-than-beautiful polo shirts they always seem to require.

  5. Keep a majority of your clothing purchases away from the more outrageous trends if you prefer a more low-maintenance wardrobe. Trendy pieces should be added in when they really strike your fancy or would pair perfectly with other items already in your closet for years to come.

  6. In fact, as you look through your closet, you may discover, as I did, that many of the clothes we no longer wear are trends of the past that no longer have a place in our wardrobes. I, for one, had to dispose of several dresses I kept since freshman year of high school, and put the plethora of graphic tees I couldn’t bear to part with into safekeeping in storage. Periodically cleansing your closet of clothes you no longer wear makes both dressing and shopping far more efficient, and items you no longer wear can be donated to someone who would be very grateful to have them.

  7. Leggings may be a girl’s best friend, but they have limited range in the grown-up world if you prefer to spend little time dressing yourself each day. Thus, limiting leggings to athletic wear can make the transition easier. I know, I know, they’re becoming more prevalent in office wear, but that is with very specific styling, which I just do not have the patience for early in the morning.

  8. Always keep underwear in mind when buying clothes. That thin bodycon skirt and sweetheart-neckline top might be cute, but always remember that you’ll have to wear a strapless or stick-on bra and seamless underwear every time you wear it. T-shirt bras and surprisingly, thong underwear, have served me well in my recent forays into the adult world, and they honestly haven’t made me feel as frumpy as I expected to feel.

  9. Somewhat related to number 7 is that, unfortunately, unless you plan on entering very specific industries (beauty, entertainment, etc.) it is unlikely that you will require very many of the fun, relatively revealing outfits from our college days. Try to keep that in mind when building a wardrobe for the person you plan on becoming. This was the most difficult rule for me to follow, but it was the one that made the biggest difference in the end.

  10. Don’t forget to keep some of your personality in your wardrobe! Keep the sequined skirt, the mesh and velvet bodysuit, or the collection of flannels that makes you feel most like yourself. To my sister’s chagrin, I still have my weird clothes, and I wear them regularly (but not all at the same time; that’s progress, people!).  


While I realize that these rules may seem obvious, I cannot emphasize enough how sticking to them as strictly as possible has helped me put together a wardrobe that fits my needs at this time and plans for my potential lifestyle in the future.

Overall, my main source of satisfaction throughout this process came from the sense of purpose I now feel while getting dressed. It helps me to think through my activities for the day and make sure that I’ve adequately prepared for each one, right down to the shoes and pants for lab or the khaki pants (yuck, I know) for volunteering. The secondary benefits of being comfortable and feeling dressed for the occasion each day certainly helped.

I plan to continue this little project of mine for the next few years until I have most of my basics built up and then I’ll just add and replace as needed, when and if my lifestyle demands it. Although it might not always lead to the cutest outfits, I’ve certainly found myself feeling less frumpy than expected, and I felt much more comfortable in a variety of settings throughout the day, whether I was meeting friends for coffee or walking into my advisor’s office. Of all the unexpected results, none led to all the knowledge and experiences I’ll need to accumulate before I can feel like an adult, but that will be a long and arduous process. It’ll take a long time to learn how to be an adult, but in the meantime, I think I’ll just play dress-up, and fake it till I make it.