Experts Teach MIT Students How To ‘Dress for Success’ Over IAP

1806 dress
Christina A. Margiotta ’11 tries on a yellow cardigan at J.Crew as personal shopper Topher Yandell offers helpful advice. About 30 MIT students participated in Charm School’s Dress for Success event on Jan. 28.
Margaret M. Lloyd

I am not the fashionable type. Sure, I wear decent clothes that match, but there’s a difference between wearing clothes that match and wearing clothes that coordinate.

Perhaps when I signed up for Charm School’s Dress for Success, my goal was go to the next level of fashion. Or, perhaps I signed up so I could walk around J.Crew for an hour after the rest of the mall was closed.

Whatever my motivation, I boarded a shuttle on that particularly rainy January 28 with about 30 other students, male and female, undergrad and grad, heading for the J.Crew at the CambridgeSide Galleria.

The weather was miserable outside, so it was a shock to see the spring collection out in full bloom. Here I was in my raincoat and boots walking amongst capris, sundresses, and large sun hats that were just begging to be tried on. It had been months since I had last seen such bright colors as coral, lime green, and canary.

But before I could head to the dressing room to relive the days of shorts, there was the fashion talk.

To be honest, I was expecting to hear about the magic of popped collars and the terror of wearing white after Labor Day. What we got was Austin Capriello, a lively, humorous Mr. Fix-It of fashion, and two personal shoppers, Topher Yandell and Beverly Quintero.

First, Capriello gave us a run-down of the most common dress errors. His dressing for success rules are downright pedantic, and surprisingly guys have it worse than girls.

He offered guidelines like matching your belt with your shoes, ensuring your jacket falls just above your second knuckle, avoiding acid-wash jeans, and never wearing white socks with dress shoes. Ever. That is apparently as bad as not wearing any clothes at all. No dark socks? Capriello says only April to October is an acceptable period for going sock-less.

For the ladies, Capriello advised, “We encourage color. It separates people from the common masses.” He was also a big advocate for accessories, because you can really pop “as you’re making eyes with that guy,” he explained. You could also stand out by using a men’s silk tie as a belt, which Yandell was quick to demonstrate.

What began as a mail-order catalog of the 1980’s, J.Crew has become an international brand, which Capriello described as “All-American, maybe a little bit preppy.” Recently, Barack Obama wore a custom-made bowtie designed by the retailer, which has also outfitted the rest of the First Family. In the week after the Inauguration, J.Crew’s stock rose ten percent.

The most important fashion accessory, however, cannot be found in a catalog, on the runway, or even on a J.Crew shelf, because the number one rule is to have confidence. “Look good. Feel good. Do good,” Capriello chimed.

I thought this was a bit simplistic at first. If feeling good was all one needed for success, then why did I bother taking the 8.01 final? But as I perused the vibrant cardigans, the sparkling ballet flats, and the silly names — like the “Taffeta Nicky Shirt” or the “Slub” cotton hoodies — Topher, one of the personal shoppers, cheerfully stated, “I love your bag!” Just like that, I felt the gratification that I had done something right; I had turned from feeling like a “dress-by-number” client to a potential “chic chick.”

So what if I don’t have the same dress in three different colors, or the creativity to match my shoes with my belt and my earrings? I certainly learned that there is no shuttle to the true key to dressing for success.