Fashion and Model United Nations

by Ryan on September 27, 2008

In high school, I had a lucky tie. It was this trippy, red Jerry Garcia tie. I just learned that this particular tie has a name: “Poet Absorbs War.” Pretty heavy name for a tie. Oddly enough, it was a gift from my parents, I initially didn’t think much of it as I wore it to MUN conferences and speech competitions. But as I became more and more successful at these occasions, I slowly realized that I was wearing the same tie. And so it became my lucky tie.

As some misguided act of kinship, I gave this tie to my brother once I graduated from high school. It was more like trying to close a particular chapter of my life as I went to college. And as soon as I signed up for Model UN tryouts at Yale, I missed this tie like a 5-year old misses his security blanket, and I bought a blue version of the same tie. Lo and behold, I made the team, thanks to my new lucky blue tie! Or, so I thought.

At my first college conference, I was ready to kick butt, represent the OC, and rock my new lucky blue tie. Then, one of my newfound teammates pulled me aside. This guy is one of the most well-dressed people I have ever met, and on top of that, he looks a lot like Orlando Bloom. And in his warm, Turkish accent, he said, “Ryan, I saw your tryout, and I thought to myself: great speaker, terrible tie.”

Welcome to college MUN.

I’ve come a long way from wearing Jerry Garcia ties. I’ve learned that, although dressing well is not necessary for doing well, it certainly helps. It’s part of the broader picture, i.e. the way you present yourself. Like it or not, people are judgmental, and evaluate you on first impressions. This may seem unfair, but it may not be without an element of truth. And, in a way, how you dress is a manifestation of how you see yourself.

After spending some time on the Yale MUN team, I learned that everyone had their own style. One guy was the model investment banker in personality and look, with a shrewd, direct, I-only-mean-business-or-else-get-out-of-my-face demeanor, impeccably matched by a prim, blue Brooks Brothers shirt with white executive collars and French cuffs, complete with gold tie, watch, and cuff links. Another guy was the charming, charismatic Croatian with Colin Farell good looks, and the only person I know who was European enough (read: fashion forward) who could pull off an orange dress shirt. One girl loved pretty little designer shoes with high heels, to make her look taller. And another girl wore six-inch stilettos with clear glass heels. Why? I don’t know…

Surprisingly, despite our perceived dorkiness, MUNers are pretty fashionable. Maybe not as much in high school, when many students are not used to dressing professionally, and so just put on whatever they have; I personally borrowed my dad’s suit until I was a junior. And maybe not as much in American MUN as compared to European MUN. I’ve had many a conversation with Europeans about how they’re brought up with a more sophisticated fashion sense, and from what I’ve seen, I’ve come to believe it (i.e. Croatian guy mentioned above).

But once you get to college, European or not, fashion becomes a part of MUN strategy. The West Point delegates certainly command a presence, wearing their class A uniforms to the first and last committee sessions. You can also tell which delegates know how to rock a suit; these delegates have it cut just right, so that it brings out their natural body shape. An obvious sign of a well-cut suit is that the sleeves are cut just short enough that a little bit of shirt cuff can show, especially if you’re wearing French cuffs.

And I need to verify this statistically, but I bet you see more solid red power ties on the first night of the conference, when people are just meeting each other, and the last full day of a conference (typically Saturday), when delegates are finishing and voting on resolutions. Both occasions demand confidence, and a solid red power tie is meant to say just that.

Heck, I’m guilty of this strategy, except with a twist. In college, I noticed that the first committee session of a 4-day conference, like UPenn’s or Harvard’s, takes place in the evening. To these sessions, I liked to wear a dark, wine-red tie with a blue satin shirt. These colors were carefully chosen to compliment the evening mood, when people want to meet each other but not exert that much energy doing so; think of those old black and white movies with people having polite conversation and evening cocktails in someone’s apartment on the Upper East Side. The tie was purposefully not bright red, because then it would look like I was trying too hard. And satin has a smooth, silky, soft texture to it, which is very inviting at night.

The intended effect was not only to display confidence, but also to look like a warm person that was easy to speak to. And as I walked around the room, meeting people before session formally began, while the dais was still setting up, I hoped that my presence, amplified by what I was wearing, eased the tensions of those first sessions, and put people in a good mood. Of course, what I said and how I said it must have mattered more, but the entire package–from my words to my manners to my clothes–were all part of a cohesive strategy to look like a leader of the committee, and to position myself advantageously so as to actually become one.

[Image]Ignore the belt…

Let me make clear that I am no fashion expert; I am merely a student of fashion. But in future posts, I hope to offer actual suggestions on how to dress for MUN conferences.

And what happened to my Jerry Garcia tie(s)? Well, my brother went off to college, and in his own misguided act of kinship, left my red tie at home because he didn’t want to wear it. I stopped bringing my blue tie to conferences, though I did wear it to special events with the Yale Model UN team. Now, it just sits in my closet. But whenever I look at pictures of the Yale team or my high school MUN team, I see a younger version of myself, and I get nostalgic thinking of people I’ve met and things I’ve learned, and I think, “Great speaker; terrible tie!”

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  • Anonymous

    What do you think about wearing bow ties during committee sessions? I typically wear a white french cuff shirt or a blue OCBD with them. I’ve worn them several times while out on the circuit, and people seem to take a liking to my bow ties.

    • Ryan Villanueva

      I like bow ties. I can’t pull them off, and I wouldn’t recommend them in a corporate setting, but for MUN conferences they’re dressy yet fun and they help you stand out from the crowd (as long as you can pull it off). Chuck Roberts from Columbia owns the bow tie look on the college circuit.

  • Victoria

    Would wearing a sweater dress with tights and riding boots be considered appropriate attire? With pearls?

    • Kele

      Sweater dress maybe, but not the riding boots.

  • Theress Jones

    Wow, UN fashion is really great! as a respected authority UN should look snappy at any confernces. I just love to see how awesome UN fashion style in The Beauty Insiders

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