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match0_smI still remember those awful words creeping into my ears on my first day of speech camp: “Competitors must dress professionally.” I remember looking down at my dog hair-coated black capris and pink Paris t-shirt and wondering exactly what that meant. Would I have to wear a ball gown or something? Or HEELS? I could barely walk straight in flat shoes.

womanMost normal teenagers do not dress “professionally” very often. Some of us have recitals every so often where we have to dress up, but wearing suits for an entire weekend is a pretty foreign concept to most of us. Unfortunately, because of lack of experience and interest, too many speech and debate students forsake professionalism and do the bare minimum by following the dress code. Although that is the most important thing to do, along with staying modest, we have to realize that dressing well improves our results, both in the speech and debate world and the business community. So instead of just wearing your older sibling’s suit and throwing on your dad’s rubber chicken tie, consider these cheap and simple ways to look professional, sharp, and worthy of trust.

1. Always be neat! There is literally no excuse for food on your face, wrinkles in your outfit, a crooked tie, an untucked shirt, or anything of the sort. Girls, I know that some shirts just don’t like to stay tucked in, but keep trying. It’s currently the fashion to tuck in dress shirts, especially if they extend an inch past the bottom of the jacket. Try wearing a belt to keep it all smooth. Guys, don’t be afraid to ask for help with your ties! But if you loosen it at lunch time, always make sure to tighten it back up. And…try to not experiment with fancy knots unless you actually know how to do it. I’ve seen some pretty awful renditions of the Eldridge knot.

2. Make it fit. Of course, many of us are strapped for cash, and suits aren’t cheap. If you’re more of a thrift store browser, that’s totally fine! You can find some great suits, dresses, and other professional separates there. However, they’re likely to not fit you great. Try going to a tailor: they can measure you and take in bits of your suits here and there to make sure your cloth doesn’t swallow you up or pinch in all the wrong places. As a tall girl, I understand the issue with short pants, and tailors can help with that, too. Just keep looking, because there is hope.

3. Use a good and classy eye. Neon colored shirts and ties just don’t scream “professional.” You can never go wrong with pairing neutral colors: for instance, a black suit with a white shirt and a navy blue tie; a brown suit with an olive green blouse; a grey suit with a cute white top. With that said, don’t be afraid to show your style. My favorite tournament outfit is a navy blue skirt suit with an orange top. I can wear this outfit because the colors complement my very pale complexion. However, people with more olive-toned skin have to go for those more neutral, warm colors. For those of you with dark skin, try a dark suit with fall and winter colors like red, yellow, blue, and turquoise. It’s also helpful to just keep up with recent trends. For basically ever, knee-length pencil skirts have been the fashion. Recently, colored blazers (with neutral pants or skirts) and slightly fitted jackets have stood out for both girls and guys.

4. Be smart. Don’t carry your supplies in a dirty orange backpack. Don’t wear scuffed up shoes. Don’t wear a tie with TV characters on it. Don’t wear huge, diamond-encrusted hoop earrings—I can guarantee you that your ballots will say something like “your earrings were too distracting.” Don’t write stuff on your hands. Don’t wear bright orange nail polish. Don’t wear white socks (even if you’re wearing a white suit, wear cream colored socks). Don’t let your hair get messy and not fix it. Don’t look old and frumpy, because you’re a charming young lady or man!

Trust me: If you do it correctly, dressing “professionally” can actually be really fun and rewarding. Get some help from your parents and friends, use your head, and dress to impress!

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