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How To Dress For College Formal Events

Group of young adults dressed in business attire

When you picture yourself in college you probably aren't wearing a tie (unless you attend an Ivy League school, perhaps). Sadly, college life can't all be flip flops, mesh shorts and hooded sweatshirts. There will be occasions that call for a little more polished look. More often than not, that means donning more traditional dress clothes. Knowing the nature of the event and what to wear is a small but critical part of succeeding in any social situation.

Homecoming Events

Let's start with a more fun situation that you may encounter in your first semester of college. Many universities hold special evening events during Homecoming, like a dinner or dance, and there's a good chance you're going to have to dress up to attend. But, dressing for homecoming shouldn't be like dressing for a job interview. Think composed and clean but also festive. This is an event that will likely be full of proud alumni who are there to have fun and reminisce on the good ol' days. A solid colored dress shirt paired with a striped tie or bow tie incorporating your school's colors is a popular option. It's a polished look that also shows you understand the event and are ready to have fun. A nice pair of chinos will suffice for this event as well. Don't wear sneakers. Instead, opt for a pair of oxfords. You can even show some school spirit with a pair of colorful or striped socks.

Red and Black Striped Tie


Formals are a fun part of college, too, but they aren't just held by fraternities or sororities. Many professional clubs, student groups or academic departments will have their own formal or semi-formal events. While formal events require a tux and bow tie, semi-formal events generally only require a suit. In some instances, a simple shirt and tie will suffice, but these events aren't technically semi-formal. Know the nature of the event you're attending and get a feel for the typical dress. Don't be afraid to ask someone who has been to the event previously what they wore or look for photos of last year's event on Facebook or Instagram.

Semi-formal events are most common and offer more freedom with your outfit choices. As always, solid colored ties work well in these situations. Striped ties began as signifiers of membership in a university, club or military regiment. Today, they still work extremely well at club or academic events.

Hunter Green and Gold Formal Striped Tie

Class Presentations

Depending on your major, you may have class presentations that will require you to dress up. These kinds of presentations are especially common if you're pursuing a business degree like finance or marketing.

Wearing an ironed shirt and tie, in some cases even a suit, is always a smart presentation decision even if it's not required. It lets people know you care about the presentation and naturally makes you look more authoritative. Dressing up isn't just for the people in the audience either. It will often give you a little added confidence too, which is always welcome.

Keep these tips in mind and you won't look like a fish out of water when it comes time to look your collegiate best.

Black Slim Solid Color Necktie

Job Fairs

At some point in your college career, you're probably going to attend a job fair. (Finding a job post graduation is the whole point, isn't it?) Treat a job fair like you are meeting your future employer for the first time. Standard job interview attire should rule the day. At the least wear a shirt and necktie, and in most instances a suit. However, your attire could vary based on your degree. If you're in business school, you'll be dressing more conservatively. For a safe and classic combination, go with a charcoal or navy blue suit paired with a white dress shirt and blue or red tie. You can certainly change it up a bit depending on your personal style but whatever you do, error on the side of overly dressy.

If your degree is in a more creative field like advertising or graphic design, you can probably get away with a little more imaginative outfit. Pairing a nice blazer with chinos and a paisley tie is one option. Still, maintaining a clean and crisp look is important.

One you land an interview, be sure to take a look at our articles on How to Dress for a Job Interview In A Business Setting and Dressing for Creative Job Interviews.

Turquoise Clara Paisley Necktie

About TieMart

TieMart is an online retailer of men’s neckties, bow ties and other accessories. A wide selection of pattern ties are available at TieMart, including popular paisley ties for weddings, traditional plaid ties for the office and collegiate two-color striped ties for graduation or school uniforms. And, yes, if you really want to put your face on a tie, it’s possible with a custom photo tie. TieMart ties are affordable and ship quickly from their Midwest location.


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