Dress Well, Test Well: How to Create Success With What You Wear

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In high school, test day meant one word: scrub (i.e. the art of rocking a sweatshirt and sweatpants). After staying up all night cramming for a 9 a.m. biology test, putting together a decent looking outfit the next morning simply was not going to happen for anyone.

However, after entering my first year of college, I quickly became accustomed to a new concept, one that many of my peers like to refer to as “dress well, test well.” Even though you may feel like “scrub” on your exam day, you don’t want your crush in Calculus 2 to know that. “Dress well, test well” simply implies that those who dress well on the day of their exam or presentation are likely to perform, or at least feel, better.

Although no studies have shown a direct correlation between clothing and test results, there is in fact truth to the idea that how a person dresses can affect their attitude and self-confidence.

Carly Heltinger, author of the book The Freshman 50 and writer of the popular blog The College Prepster, is one who highly praises the “dress well, test well” theory and believes that dressing well can instill self-confidence which is necessary for test taking.

On The College Prepster, Carly discusses the idea of “power outfits” which is essentially a go-to outfit composed of great pieces that are both comfortable and flattering. “If you have a big presentation, or a big test or generally doing something that makes you feel uneasy, wearing a great outfit can ease your nerve a bit,” Heltinger said.

A power outfit can ultimately mean a range of things for students, as personal preference is key. However, what is important is for students to find an outfit that they feel positive and great in. Simply put, feeling great can often put students in the right mindset. “I think the main thing to remember is do it [dress] for yourself, not for anybody else,” Montgomery College sophomore Abbie Wikner said. “For me, I’m much more productive when I’m at least wearing a little makeup and dressed nicer,” Wikner said. “Sometimes I’m lazy and wear leggings…but it’s kind of like how when you wear workout clothes it’s easier to get yourself to work out. If I wear sleep clothes, I’ll just feel grumpy that I’m on a place that’s not my bed.” Essentially, “dressing for the occasion” applies to school, too. If you dress like you’re about to embark on a four-hour Netflix binge, you’re probably not going to feel up to taking a four-hour exam.

Heltinger also believes that dressing well is a great way to establish your presence. “It ultimately shows you care,” she, a recent Georgetown graduate, said. “Most students at Georgetown dressed well every day for class, and it was definitely noticeable.” You may not think much of making a good impression on your TA for your 100-person math lecture, but you never know when you may need to ask that same TA for a recommendation letter later on in the future. Have him or her remember you by your grades and professionalism rather than as the student who showed up in “scrubs” every day.

Vanderbilt University freshman Megan Davis likes to combine both style and comfort for important test days. “I’d say I like to dress casually for comfort but also try to make [my outfit] look put together at the same time to help me feel good,” Davis said. “I usually go for leggings and a big sweater.” Davis shows that you don’t need to embrace your inner Hillary Clinton and strut a pant-suit to look put-together and be a boss. Leggings and an over-sized fall sweater can appear professional if they fit well and you pair them with the right accessories, like a colorful scarf, chunky necklace or stylish booties.

But not all people agree with “dress well, test well.” Boston College junior Hannah Mulvey is someone who doesn’t necessarily believe the hype regarding the concept of dressing well and testing well, but still values the basic theory. “Most of the time I would rather be comfortable and not focus so much on what I’m wearing,” Mulvey said. “However I do like to dress up when I know I’ll be in the library for long periods of time to avoid being tired.”

Whether you feel the most confident styling leggings and a sweatshirt or a dress and wedges, it’s true that all students have a wide range of clothing options that produce both confidence and comfort.

Regardless of personal preference, students should keep in mind the following tips when browsing their dorm room closets on an important test day.

Items to Avoid

Tops: Anything that feels too tight. Crop tops, halters, you name it. These all may feel restricting when trying to write and will most likely feel uncomfortable when needing to take that halfway mark stretch.

Bottoms: You know your favorite going out skinny jeans that are so tight they make your butt look amazing, but also make you fear for your life because one wrong dance move could mean a rip down the back? Yeah, those. Those are not the jeans you want to wear to class when you’re hunched over vigorously filling out your Scantron. Your test is stressful enough, you don’t need to add on the stress of accidentally showing off your granny-panties to the entire row sitting behind you.

Shoes: Wearing your brand new converse or four-inch heels for the first time on your test day is probably not the best idea. No one wants to feel the pain of blisters puncturing their toes during their two-hour physics exam. Your physics exam will feel painful enough.

Accessories: Heavy jewelry is a definite no. An armful of bangles may look stylish, but the noisy bracelets only distract the rest of your classmates when you’re writing an in-class essay. You also want to avoid heavy necklaces that weigh down your neck…you already feel weighed down by your un-weighted GPA.

Items to Wear

Tops: Loose-fitting tops don’t mean unflattering, baggy sweatshirts. Whether you opt for the oversized sweater or your favorite t-shirt, wearing clothes that you can easily move around in definitely makes sitting in a desk for two hours a lot more manageable. Also, adding a nice-fitting cardigan or blazer to any simply tee-shirt can make your outfit look 100 times more presentable while staying 100 percent comfortable.

Bottoms: Everyone has a favorite pair of jeans that fit just about perfectly and feel amazing, so why not break them out for a test? Jeans are the perfect in-between to sweatpants and dress pants and can be worn both casually and more conservatively. If you’ve sworn against jeans, wearing your most flattering leggings can also make a good impression on your classmates and professors. Although many people view leggings as unprofessional, as long as you pair them with a nicer top and accessories (and they aren’t see-through), you’ll have everybody fooled.

Shoes: When you’re walking all around campus to different classes all day, your shoe choice is the key to comfort. High-knee, mid-calf or ankle boots can make any outfit look more presentable. But clean Converse, Vans or other flats also match well with leggings or jeans.  

Accessories: Scarves are a fall favorite and can take any outfit from 0-100 real quick. Also, since you never know what type of weather conditions you may be encountering in lecture halls these days, a scarf keeps you a little extra warm and cozy during your exam. Simple necklaces or bracelets can also add a nice touch without distracting you from those chemistry formulas.

In need ideas on how to dress for class?

Check out this video of college student Orly Alexandra, who showcases a week of comfortable and cute fall outfits for class.

*Updated on December 6, 2016 by Christiana Littrell to include additional outfit options and video.

Junior > Communication/English > Boston College

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