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MBA Chic On The B-School Campus

 

You’ve heard the phrase “dress for success,” but this is getting ridiculous.

These days, you’d think business school hallways had turned into a catwalk. And you can almost hear a faint Eurobeat thumping as your peers walk by. Your personal style may be sweats and a football jersey, but your peers look like they stepped off the pages of GQ and Marie Claire. And why not? Everyone is a personal brand now. Business school is a two-year audition. So you better work it. People buy you long before your product or proposal. You only get one chance to make a good impression. And your clothes express, according to The Financial Times, “not only who you are and the people you surround yourself with but also the kind of job you are seeking.”

So what are the styles on the top business school campuses? And how do they reflect the underlying cultures of these institutions.?

Let’s start at Harvard, where Harbus columnist Raamin Mostaghimi once described the business school clothing aesthetic as “British peasant farmer couture,” with its “peculiar combination of waterproof boots and Burberry scarves.” Satire aside, Mostaghimi admitted that he was “immediately struck by how everyone seemed inordinately intentional about the way they presented themselves on campus,” adding that “the majority of B-schoolers will have had a few years in the working world, are highly ambitious and have had time to hone exactly what style works best for them.”

So how do they dress? For men, Mostaghimi notes that many have adopted a Wall Street look of “head-to-toe Brooks Brothers and with a penchant for collared shirts, cashmere and eye-poppingly bright [trousers].” For women, an unidentified HBS student described a dress code straight out of suburbia: “Smart jeans, J Crew knits, tailored shifts and pumps.” But one aesthetic unites HBS men and women: Harvard-branded hoodies or windbreakers, which are designed to make a statement that they are among “the chosen few.”

And what about west coast rival Stanford? It’s the opposite, with students going to “great lengths to dissociate themselves from the clean-cut, tailored style traditionally favoured on the East Coast.” One Stanford student describes the men’s dress as “the least chilled-out competition ever about who can look the most nonchalant and relaxed.” And the women? Well, you’ll find “Lululemon shorts… Patagonia fleeces, flip flops and backpacks from day one,” with suits being a “cultural no-no.”

And what about Europeans, the trendsetters for international style? According to Alexander Wrey, a student at INSEAD, the dress code is “low-key,” with many students relying on free corporate-branded wear. Pretty ironic, huh?

Of course, there are variations within student populations. Bertrand Nicoli, a student at NYU Stern, observes that there are “parallels between people’s clothing choices and the school clubs they join,” with female students relying on the “top brands from the luxury and retail society, besuited aspirant bankers or entrepreneurial types who favour the Brooklyn “hipster” aesthetic.”

In short, students’ destinations ultimately determine their dress. And business school is like playing dress up, with students readying themselves for the real thing. In the words of one student: “Whatever MBA school you attend, if you’re savvy then you’ll dress the part for the job you want – just as you would in the real world – following the style and practices of the professional environment you choose to enter.”

Source: The Financial Times

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