Sartorial Observer: Classing up our campus with formal wear

If I could issue a retraction, I would. When I wrote an article in November (“Sartorial Observer: Striding outside in style and comfort,” Nov. 2, 2011) saying that winter had come early and that we better get our boots now before we find ourselves knee-deep in a snow bank, I couldn’t have known it would be one of the warmest winters on record.

I think that’s why the advent of Winter Carnival came as a surprise to me this year. Amidst the 40-degree, snowless weather, I completely forgot that classes were canceled and there would be a gala in Paresky. And who doesn’t love a good party?

Parties, though, especially nicer parties, bring the inevitable questions about dress code: “Robert, what are you wearing to this thing?” “How should I dress?” “Are you getting dressed up?” Those were probably the three questions most commonly asked of me during the week leading up to the semi-formal gala. I responded by saying, “I’m probably going to go classy casual: dark jeans and a button-down. You know, people don’t really get all that dressed up here.”

It would always pain me a bit to say that, but it’s true. When you think of events that are meant to be more formal, by about 12:30 a.m., many of the girls have their shoes off and some of the guys – myself included – are dancing around in their undershirts. Some people arrive dressed as they would for a Goodrich party. I don’t know if this is fueled by my recent observations at the gala or my newfound addiction to Downton Abbey – in which the characters get dressed in gowns and tails for a simple family supper – but why don’t we get dressed up anymore?

Perhaps we choose a more casual sartorial route out of practicality and convenience. After all, high heels do hurt a girl’s feet eventually, especially when a lot of dancing is involved. and it gets awfully hot when a guy is trying to dance with a blazer and tie on. At First Chance, I waited all of 15 minutes before my tie came off. It’s also difficult to keep track of your things, which gets increasingly harder as the night goes on and more coats, ties, shoes, blazers and shirts start to pile up. So isn’t it just easier to start by wearing fewer pieces?

If we do that, though, we lose the formal spirit of the event. There must be some happy medium we can strike. That sweet spot lies in the issue of fit. I find that a well-fitting outfit gives off a more formal vibe than one that is not as tailored to the body – for guys and girls alike.

Guys, try putting on a sleekly tailored shirt and a pair of khakis. Stay away from pleated pants (they add extra fabric and bulk to areas that flatter nobody) and keep the fit in the leg trim – not tight. Adopt the same attitude toward the fit of your shirt and pay attention that you are not swimming in a sea of extra fabric – don’t we want to show off the fact that we’ve been hitting the gym recently? Put the two together and complete the look with a dress shoe (under no circumstances is it acceptable to wear an athletic sneaker with khakis and a dress shirt). You’ll be comfortable, well-dressed and getting more compliments than you ever thought you would on such a simple outfit.

The girls seem to have it right when they reach into their closets for knee-length dresses, which are a good length to dance in. But why not experiment some with the pattern or shape of the dress? I recently saw a good friend of mine in a blue-and-white patterned dress that went just past the knee and had a slight wrap top that bubbled out a bit at the hip. That shape would not work on everybody, but it complemented her body type and, combined with the pattern, added visual interest. It set her apart from the crowd and made people stop to think about how cool she looked. After all, aren’t we all looking for subtle ways to stand out from the crowd?

I am not calling for a campus-wide reform on dress code (although after eight episodes of Downton Abbey in a disturbingly short period of time, dressing for dinner is starting to look alluring), but I do think we should start being a bit more thoughtful when it comes to formal occasions and parties. They only happen a few times a year, so why not put in a little extra effort? Hundred Days is just around the corner. I’ll be breaking out my suit – I hope I’m not the only one!

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