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Making it Work Fashion@MIT

By Ruth Miller

MIT Fashion is a funny thing. At few other places can one get away with, nay, win applause for a duct tape tuxedo.

Generally, fashion isn’t a concern of the MIT student. Even the smallest heel will echo up and down the Infinite, and once the first cold snap hits, all the warm-weather freshmen pile on every single piece of clothing they own with abandon. Weighting grooming over sleep is difficult, and by your second year, MIT goggles will ensure that you don’t care what anyone else looks like anyway.

Why buy shirts when tons of companies shell out big bucks to come to MIT and give them to you for free? And is it necessary to change clothes every time the sun rises or just when you wake up?

Questions like these plague the modern MIT student. But for those who still strive for acceptance off-campus, or want to improve on the cross-gender campus status quo of jeans and T-shirt, here’s a quick guide to fashion by major, in handy decreasing order of fashion consciousness:

Management – Suits. Every management major I know is always running around to interviews, and owns at least one suit. Taking classes in the Sloan building will make you feel like a slob, so even if you aren’t a Sloanie, but take a class in their building, wear a suit. Especially on free food days.

Political Science/Economics – Every political scientist/economist dreams of some day gaining one of the few coveted high profile spots in the field. Expect to see a few ties, and a lot of business wear. Realistically, almost all political scientists/economists must accept that they will probably spend their days in libraries doing research. Hence, layers are good (those library thermostats are fickle). You can’t study either field without a brief mention of Europe, so irony provides a heavy dose of European style.

Urban Planning - The graduate students of Urban Planning are probably the most trendy of any department. The undergrads, psychologically stuck between 4 and 17, compromise with a steady commitment to business casual.

Architecture - Most architects distinguish their profession by wearing a lot of black. Why black? The better to accentuate their accessories. But at MIT, Architecture students are likely to see so little sunlight, that it is in their best interest to remind themselves of the appearance of color as best they can. 4.101 Introduction to Architecture is MIT’s closest approximation to Greenwich Village: home sewn clothes, funky colors, and, of course, lots of geometric lines and shapes.

Biology – One of the major lessons of 7.012 is gene regulation: take an organism, turn off one gene, and follow the stream of resulting effects to see what happens. Such is fashion. Take a complete outfit, tweak, and study the result. Biology students have an inherent ability to see the cause and effect in outfit assemblage. Expect to see complex combinations. That, and close-toed shoes – safety first.

Chemistry/Chemical Engineering – The world is made of elements that can be combined into compounds. Some compounds are good, while others are bad. Much like fashion, chemistry requires knowing how to construct useful and attractive combinations. Unafraid of chemical hair dye, Chemists and Chemical Engineers also make good use of close-toed shoes.

Civil Engineering – Engineering, yes, but a field of engineering that often involves a fair amount of government work. Government work implies a slightly more formal dress code.

Materials/Mechanical Engineering – Engineers that can get by without seeing the light of day. Let’s say “casual.”

Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences – The most environmentally friendly of the majors is thus the most reminiscent of the 1960s. Crocs, the dishwasher-safe shoes, are abundant.

Aeronautics and Astronautics/Nuclear Engineering – A very good friend of mine is in Aero/Astro, and he has worked very hard to bring back the look of the 1969 NASA engineer – boxy, pressed shirt and pants, pocket protector. How else will the fashionistas of the future protect their shirt pockets from ink stains? If useless legwarmers can be popular (twice), it’s only a matter of time before pocket protectors hit the mainstream.

Physics/Math - How can anyone look at closed paths all day and not see futility in dressing up? They’re going to end up in the hamper at the end of the day, so you might as well choose the system that involves the least amount of work.

Computer Science – By Digital Death Lab, if you still care about how you look, you’re going to be fine.

There exists a realm beyond the physical world where being super-smart transcends the rules of mortal clothing. If the purpose of fashion is to impress, wear a baggy black T-shirt and pants into an electronics store and explain to the clerks how their products work. Dressing well isn’t as important as knowing how to reason and think, and teachers and employers know that. But it never hurts to put your best foot forward. And after a week of drudgery, sometimes dressing to the 9’s and going out for Thai is a great way to slough off the doldrums.

The only superlative rule of MIT Fashion: hygiene is your friend.