Tidying Up, An MBA Wardrobe Retrospective

It’s Spring Break this week, and I’m on a serious cleaning kick. With a cross-state move coming up in less than four months, it’s all about minimization. Clothing, papers, kitchen gadgets, toiletries–anything superfluous has been trashed or donated to Goodwill. My cupboards and closets look downright bare, like I should toss them a towel for modesty.

My inspiration is this book: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

magic of tidying

Author Marie Kondo is an organizational consultant in Japan. Her philosophy is about surrounding yourself with things that “spark joy,” and aggressively purging anything that doesn’t. As someone who tends to hold on to things for overly logical reasons–“Oh, I couldn’t possibly donate that sweater I never wear, it was too expensive”–I found her approach strangely freeing. Gather all your things together and look at them one by one. If you don’t love it, thank it for serving a purpose in your life and let it go. It may sound corny, but I thanked that sweater for teaching me that the color grey makes me look like a corpse, and tossed it in the donation bag with no regrets. Magic, indeed.

As I trimmed my closet down to the essentials, I discovered that I had way more clothing than I actually needed. Two years ago I agonized over creating the perfect MBA wardrobe, and then only wore about half of it on a regular basis. If I had a time machine I would go back and teach my two-years-younger self a few things.

  1. Fit is everything. B-school students are placed in all sorts of agonizing situations on a daily basis, so we need all the confidence we can get. Don’t buy anything that doesn’t fit you like a glove, or be sure to get it custom tailored. I bought nice things that I never wore simply because they didn’t fit me well.
  2. Don’t be afraid of color. In a sea of grey, navy, and black, a pop of pink or green makes a big statement. Keep your suits neutral and then your blouses can be as wild as you are comfortable with.
  3. Dresses. This one surprised me, because I was never a dress-wearing gal before business school. But after months of living in androgynous trousers and jackets, it felt nice to be a little feminine. Dresses are versatile (pair with a jacket for business professional or a sweater for business casual), comfortable, and let’s face it, kinda hot. Plus they’re super fun to shop for.
  4. Pantyhose. Hey, if it’s good enough for Kate Middleton, it’s good enough for me. Pantyhose makes your legs look smooth, keeps you warm in air-conditioned rooms, and covers for you when you don’t have time to shave. Truly a lady’s best friend.
  5. OMG, Sweaters. Maybe this is just me, but I am always cold. Air conditioners turn on full blast and tiny drafts turn into arctic gusts when I enter a room. So needless to say, I bring a sweater to school every day.
  6. Only wear shoes that make your feet sigh with delight. If women ran the world, all networking events would be conducted sitting while admiring each other’s cute five inch heels. Unfortunately b-school demands a lot of standing and walking, so wear the most comfortable shoes you can find. If they give you blisters or slide off your heels or pinch your toes, kindly thank them for their service and let them go.
  7. The rest of your wardrobe is fine. While professional clothing is important for business school, you’re actually going to be wearing normal clothes about 90% of the time. Don’t go overboard.
  8. You only need the following: 2 suits (one black, one grey), 4 blouses, 3 cardigans, 2 pairs of heels (1 black, 1 nude), 1 pair of boots, 2 pairs of pantyhose, 1 purse large enough to hold a padfolio, and as many dresses as you can justify.

There you go, two-years-younger self. Everything you need to know about dressing for success. You’ll thank me later.

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9 thoughts on “Tidying Up, An MBA Wardrobe Retrospective

  1. Jennifer says:

    Awesome post! Really helpful for an MBA admit who will start orientation this summer (and has been working in sartorially-casual engineering for the last four years). Thankssss Bschool Girl!

    • bschoolgirl says:

      Thanks for the inspiration, Jennifer! πŸ™‚ As someone who regularly wore jeans and t-shirts to work before b-school, I totally understand how overwhelming MBA clothing decisions can be. Good luck at orientation!

  2. Christy Vutam says:

    Love the post! I will look back on this post when the time comes. πŸ˜‰

    In the near future though, I can’t wait to read the book you recommended! I’m just Hold #99 in my city’s library system for the 10 copies they have. πŸ˜€

      • Christy Vutam says:

        Finally got my hands on the book and…I promptly put myself back on hold for it (#79 out of 90 people for the 17 copies they have now). Thank you for recommending The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up; the book is amazing! Life-changing perhaps? Quite possibly! I’m still in the midst of discarding (ugh, SO MUCH STUFF), but my room already feels more positive.

        I’m so glad someone finally 1) explained that it’s not about storage whatsoever and 2) pointed out how little – if ever – we end up interacting with the stuff we keep because we think we’ll need/use it again…someday…in our old age, perhaps…

        Can’t wait till I have reduced enough and I “reach the point where something clicks” as Marie Kondo says will happen! πŸ˜€

        I am curious, bschoolgirl…what did you do with all your very important business school notes and lecture documents? πŸ˜‰

      • bschoolgirl says:

        That is awesome! I had such an epiphany when I read that book so it’s gratifying that you felt the same way. I’m an emotional hoarder, so learning to separate my stuff from their accompanying sense of nostalgia/guilt was really freeing.

        Funny you ask about b-school stuff. Since I read this book in the last semester of my MBA, most of the papers and books I had accumulated were part of my giant clean-out project over Spring Break. I was pretty ruthless. Books were sold back to Amazon or donated, and papers were all recycled except for a very few reference items that I put in a binder (where, chances are, I will never have to refer to them). It seemed so clear to me that most of the value of my MBA was contained in my own head, not on paper, so I don’t regret tossing them one bit. Plus it made moving apartments much less painful.

        Happy discarding! πŸ˜‰

  3. Alyssa says:

    This post is amazing and exactly what I needed (recent admit here). That said, I must say these are pretty similar takeaways to my own after having worked in a professional environment for the last 4 years, so suffice to say, it’s probably not too different than most people entering business school have already experienced.

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