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BULNES: Students should dress for grades they want

Opinions Column: Mind Body Scarlet


As a college student, you begin to learn that your overall appearance speaks volumes about who you are. This is why you wear professional attire for interviews and spend extra time getting ready when going out with friends. But some students fail to realize that your appearance is equally important when sitting in lectures and attending office hours. How you dress and groom yourself on a daily basis is a representation of your ambition and work ethic to those around you, your professors and most importantly, yourself.

Whether you followed a dress code in middle school, high school or private school, all students gain full control over their clothing choices once they enter college. At this age, it is assumed that you have created your own expectations when it comes to your appearance. Individuality can still be expressed through clothing, and there should not be strict constraints on your wardrobe, but you should make conscious choices such as keeping hair and nails groomed and practicing good hygiene. Certain clothing items should intentionally be kept outside of the classroom. Exposing or ill-fitting clothing should be avoided at all costs — it sends a message that you do not respect yourself, which causes others to lack respect for you.

The message that your appearance sends to others also has significance for your own thoughts. There is a psychological reason why you feel smarter in that suit jacket or more attractive in your favorite dress. A study published in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy by Robert A. Wilson and Lucia Foglia explains “embodied cognition,” a concept that describes how humans think not only with their minds but also with their bodies. In this study, Wilson and Foglia were able to strongly support the thesis that the body plays a significant causal role in a person’s cognitive processing. Sandra Blakeslee links this concept to “enclothed cognition” in "Mind Games: Sometimes a White Coat Isn’t Just a White Coat," an article published by The New York Times. "Enclothed cognition" is a term based off of the effect that clothing has on cognitive processes. “If you wear a white coat that you believe belongs to a doctor, your ability to pay attention increases sharply," Blakeslee said. If you attend lectures wearing clothing that gives you self-assurance, you will have confidence in your intellect and better retain information. Attending lectures with wild bed head and last night’s pajamas will let your mind subconsciously relax and shut down the way it has been trained to do every night when you put your pajamas on.

Dressing appropriately for class is half of the battle. The other half is to feel empowered by your appearance and associate it with a positive attitude that allows you to be receptive to new information in class. Blakeslee depicts this concept with her white coat metaphor: “If you wear the same white coat believing it belongs to a painter, you will show no (cognitive) improvement.” The attire is as important as the meaning you give it and the thoughts that you associate with it. Being well put together should give you a sense that you are well put together, and this mindset will translate into your work.

Professors are also inclined to draw conclusions about your work ethic based on the way you present yourself. Whenever approaching professors after class or attending office hours, being prepared for the encounter is more important than you may think. Your professors are great resources for a wealth of information. Once they get to know you as a student, they can share real-world experiences, potential job opportunities and maybe even teaching assistant positions. If they see that you take your work seriously by appearing physically and mentally prepared to learn, they will be more willing to connect with you on a professional level. But if a professor sees that you are content with putting minimal effort into your appearance, your life, your studies and your future, the chances that they think you would benefit from their wisdom will decrease, therefore damaging invaluable connections.

Physically representing yourself in a respectful manner should be a top priority for improving your success in the classroom. By doing this, you show yourself and those around you that you have certain expectations for yourself. It will set you apart from your peers and empower you to feel as though you are prepared to go above and beyond the bare minimum to succeed. You should aim to dress in a way that exemplifies your full potential — anything less is offensive to your hard work.

Monica Bulnes is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in economics and minoring in business administration. Her column, "Mind Body Scarlet," runs on alternate Tuesdays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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