Five Western Business Attire Tips for Female Delegates

by KFC on March 2, 2011

This article was written by Laura Bernstein, the 2010-11 President of the Mt. Holyoke College Model UN program. The club actively participates in the intercollegiate circuit and hosts the Five College Model UN conference.

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As is the case with all clothing, when it comes to Western Business Attire (WBA), there are about a million times as many options for women as there are for men.  And the line between appropriate and inappropriate seems to grow grayer and grayer as many companies embrace the “business-casual” trend.  To make that gray area a little more black and white, here are 5 key DOs and DON’Ts of self-presentation for female Model UN delegates:

1. DO where clothes that fit… well.

Men can get away will ill-fitting clothing a lot more easily than we women can. So, just like shoes, your clothes should neither be too tight nor too loose. Clothing that is too loose makes you look sloppy and disheveled — certainly not what you hope to project at a Model UN conference. Tight clothing on the other hand plays host to a whole array of evils: a) In many cases, tight clothing is uncomfortable.  You’ll recognize this the instant you try to jump on a chair to command your bloc during an unmoderated caucus or sit on the floor outside your committee room to type up a resolution.  b) Tight-fitting clothing is often designed to accentuate certain features on the female body, but committee is neither the time nor place for that.  Don’t let what you look like distract other delegates from your substantive contributions.  Before you pack an outfit for a conference, double check that the following body parts are not showing: your shoulder blades, the cleavage line, and the back (and front for that matter!) of your thighs.

2. DON’T over pack.

Men do a whole lot with very little and so can you.  Our fairer sex often obsesses over our peers’ fashion memory, but this is an unnecessary additional stress we put on ourselves.  No one is going to notice, or even care, if you wear the same black pants every single day of the conference.  Your best bet is to invest in staple items like a blazer, a skirt, and a pair of pants that all match.  Throw in 2 or 3 tops and you are more than set to mix and match throughout the weekend.   Sure, if you lack budget constraints you can splurge on different outfits for each day.  But, truth be told, you could wear the exact same thing on Thursday as you do on Saturday and there’s about a 98% chance that no one will notice.

3. DO wear color.

Whether you’re sitting in a crowded General Assembly or in an intimate crisis committee, you want to stand out.  For at least the first session the chair will best associate you with what you’re wearing  (e.g. “feisty girl in the green shirt”).  Don’t show up looking like you’d be better placed at the Rio Carnival in Brazil or Mardis Gras in New Orleans, but a burst of color can keep you from fading into the background of black and gray suits.

4. DON’T over accessorize.

When dressing yourself before committee you should actively think “simple, simple, simple.”  A little embellishment tends to give women extra confidence, but be cautious.  You don’t want to jingle and jangle all the way up to the microphone, for fear that everyone remembers the clanking of your bracelets instead of your perfectly crafted solution to poverty in Africa.  If you want your fellow delegates to know you mean business, you don’t want garish earrings and long, cumbersome necklaces getting in your way.  And finally…

5. DON’T kill your feet.

If you’ve been a ballet dancer since you were 4 and no longer have feeling in you feet, by all means, wear the most epic pair of heels you can find.  But if you’re like most of the female breed, heels are a pain.  A nice pair of flats or a low heel can have the same effect as a stiletto, but they will be far more forgiving while you’re trying to get to and from committee.  If you have your heart set on rocking a really ridiculous pair of heels in committee, always bring a pair of comfortable back-up shoes with you to committee.  By the time you get working on resolutions in earnest, the last thing you need is unhappy feet.  Unhappy feet make for unhappy delegate, who won’t fair well in a contest of diplomacy.  In short, be nice to your feet!

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Interested in more delegate-dressing strategies? Check out Best Delegate‘s article Fashion and Model UN  written by Ryan Villanueva. Best Delegate‘s Sarah Lambino also suggests female delegates to read the Corporette Guide to Women’s Suits.

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  • Lara

    I am a seasoned member of my higschool model un team and I find this article offensive, aggressive, patronizing, and sexist. Women delegate will wear what they wear, and not to mention you’re “preaching to the choir.” Why does this article even exist?

    • http://www.facebook.com/ryanvilla Ryan Villanueva

      Hi Lara,

      Thank you for your comment, and I’m sorry you feel this way about the article. I thought it was fine when I first read it and no one has raised any issues since it was published. I’d like to understand what you find wrong with this article.

      To provide some context, this article is here because Laura and I had a few conversations last year about having her write a guest post for Best Delegate. Laura is a successful MUNer and from Mt. Holyoke, a liberal arts college for women. I thought it would be fitting for her to share a woman’s perspective on how to succeed in Model UN. We both agree that dressing professionally is one part of being a successful MUNer, and that it differs for women and for men.

      Best,
      Ryan

      • Anonymous

        Ryan,
        Thank you for your response, I am glad I have caught your attention. I would quickly like to point out that I was not questioning the author’s credentials and I also understand the importance for all delegates to dress appropiately for a conference.

        Before the issues are addressed in the article, it is paramount to understand one thing. The MUN conference experience proposes to be universal to both the female and male experience. However, in actuality MUN is androcentric, it only reflects the male experience. All Model United Nations conferences are male-dominated, male-centered, and male-identifiable. And an article like “Five Western Business Attire Tips for Female Delegates” only feeds this system of patriarchy.

        The message of this article is essentially: if women do not conform to the 5 tips, they are a distraction to their respective committee, what you wear will distract you and others from the resolution at hand. Again, women must abide by a set of ridiculous rules or else face disgrace. I mean, God forbid that a woman’s bracelets jangle as she walks to the mic.

        This article makes me angry because it is sexist, as I said it echoes MUN’s system of patriarchy.

        -Lara

        • Anonymous

          In addition, this article should be removed from the Best Delegate website

  • Anonymous

    “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…”–Quote from “Fashion and Model UN”

    Also, why does the fact that the author went to Mt. Holyoke make this less sexist? Would it be considered sexist if they went Morehouse or Wabash?

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  • http://twitter.com/A3R1ALinvasion Lynn

    There’s nothing sexist about this article. Unfortunately, there are too many female delegates who think that they can dress their way to success with too-short skirts, a garish amount of mascara, crazy high heels, and gratuitous cleavage. That’s not how it works. It may be subjective, but the truth remains that a woman who respects herself and dresses professionally will be taken more seriously than the girl with the hoop earrings, fake eyelashes, six-inch pumps, and tiny skirt. There’s a pretty broad line between playing the femme fatale and wearing clear heels to debate. (True story.) MUN is a competition of intelligence, innovation, and diplomacy. Speaking as a girl, I can safely say that I’ve debated my way to Outstandings and gavels without ever having to resort to super-high heels, showing my cleavage, or cutting my skirt too short. It’s stupid for a girl to say, “This article is sexist and patronizing to women”, and then turn around and dress like a whore for committee. These are just five guidelines to dressing tastefully for MUN. They aren’t sexist. They’re true.

    • Anonymous

      If MUN is a competition of intelligence, innovation, and diplomacy (and it most certainly is) then shouldn’t the conference delegates and MUN community be more focused on intelligence, innovation, and diplomacy rather than how a woman is dressed?

      -Lara

  • Rachel

    I don’t see this being a sexist article at all. Both women and men are expected to dress professionally and what that entails for women is different than what defines professional dress for a man. Your first impression of someone is based almost solely on what they’re wearing. If you’re interested in being taken seriously, dress like it; this is a concept that applies to everyone, woman or man.

  • Emma

    Although this article likely doesn’t seem sexist to a casual observer, what Laura is saying makes perfect sense. With ideas like the ones perpetrated in this article- that a female delegate’s wardrobe should be focused on not distracting others- you create a standard that very hard for women to meet (have you ever tried shopping for women’s dress clothing on a budget? It’s near to impossible) and that reinforces the idea that others- essentially men- cannot control themselves and therefore it is a woman’s responsibly to keep men from being “distracted” by her clothing. No such standard is enforced for men, and, as a quick search told me, no similar article with tips for men’s business attire exists on this website. Furthermore, the idea that this article is necessary because women are “dressing like a whore” in committee is blatantly slut-shaming and one that polices women’s bodies in ways that are completely unacceptable. If you think a woman’s skirt is too short or her heels too high, you need to think about why you’re concerned about that and leave her alone.

    • Anonymous

      Completely agree with all the views expressed here.
      Thank you,
      Lara

  • http://www.yuvastyle.com/ Martin Whysall

    Thanks for these useful ideas and must prove to be best for office attire.

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