Clothes-minded—October 23, 2007

By Allison Cassing

One way to pass time on campus is to try to guess the majors of people walking past. Since the situation is asymmetrical (they know and you don’t), you have to look for clues. But how, you may ask, can a once-over tell me about someone’s major? It’s expected that sometime in your future you will go for an interview, and since potential employers are likely to take cues from a candidate’s dress, you should be prepared to present yourself accordingly. A suit can say, “I’m willing to do what is expected of me and know what is professional.” Too many bracelets might hint, “I don’t really know when to stop.” A backpack utters, “yeah…I really just ran here from class.” You may just be doing it to keep yourself legal, but how you outfit yourself really says a lot. Particularly on campus, it exclaims, “I am a (fill in the name of your concentration here) major!” There does seem to be some sort of norm for the U of C student—let’s say the unassuming straight-leg jeans and a plain shirt. Deviations from that model can be very telling of one’s academic discipline. Style-wise, when we look to the model students of majors, we start to see some

definite trends among academic peers. When you pass on the quad, what will people guess your major to be? Read on below and let the generalizations begin.

According to the College’s website, aside from undeclared, economics has the most students enrolled as majors. They’re everywhere: you’ve seen them in the café in Stuart, at Naked Economics lectures, and on their way to mingle with recruiters, always dressed in their smart, casual attire. In the same style vein are those of the political-science, I.S. and public-policy persuasions, who, based on dress, can often be confused with econ concentrators. The budding male economists seem to favor vertically striped button-up shirts with any and all colors from the roygbiv spectrum. For the rest of the outfit, you can use your creativity. The collared designs can be paired with jeans, khakis, loafers, or snazzy kicks. Generally, the skirts of the major lean, ironically, towards dress pants or jeans paired with fine-gauge knit tops and sweaters. We found econ style showing on the Luella runway with the alluring proper British business blazers; some striped, versatile button downs; and right-o suit pairings. To complete the look, backpacks are the perfect way for econ majors to tote their computers, Financial Times, and class supplies.

Moving from social science to regular-type science, we see a change in class wear. As science insiders and a few afternoons observing the science quad have confirmed, not all divisions dress alike. For scientific style inspiration we found the fall collection from Karen Walker, which mixes the feminine and masculine styles in jeans; high-waisted belted pants; screen tees; and printed blouses mostly in olive, black, gray, and blue, to echo some of the general trends. The biologist’s style is a mixture of social science, cargo pants, and lab-inspired gear (functional closed-toe footwear, a few pro-science shirts, and eye-protecting glasses). The chemists often don screen-print tees: anything from your high school sports team, county fairs, or preferred vacation spots will do. Physics and math have similar styles. Both crowds sport chemistry-esque print shirts, but the messages and graphics on these tees range from eclectic goth to jokey, often with an academic leaning. For a less casual ensemble, try a plaid (perhaps grid paper inspired?) button down. Pair either of these tops with the bluest of blue jeans, and you too could dress your way into a topology seminar.

If you went from analysis to film analysis without a wardrobe change, chances are you’d stick out. Oh, the humanities. Those studying english, comparative literature, and art history have definitely found a look. The closets of these thinkers appear to be filled with skinny pants, tights, cardigans, tunics, and trapeze dresses mixed in with clever vintage, Converse, and flats. Drop your backpacks at the door and grab a tote, messenger, or macramé sac so that your hands are free for Plath, Joyce, and Nabokov. If you’re feeling a little in the dark about how to pile on these pieces, take a look at Louis Vuitton’s fall show. This Vermeer-inspired collection of strong, artistic pieces (brightly colored lamé skirts, turtlenecks, and floppy berets joining with sharply tailored dark jackets and trim pants) translate into a wardrobe that is quintessentially humanities.

It seems that most of us do give in to peer dress-ure; that is, we have surrendered the contents of our bureaus to the trends of our fellow majors. Needless to say, there are students who don’t conform to the designs of their concentration (cross-major-dressers) and these individuals will throw you when you’re playing guess his/her major. As for no shirt, no shoes…probably an undecided.