top of page

Getting Dressy at the Athenaeum: Your Guide to Appropriate Ath Attire

November 11, 2011

Clare Riva and Jake Petzold
Getting Dressy at the Athenaeum: Your Guide to Appropriate Ath Attire

You may not know us, but we know many of you… not in a creepy way, but from seeing you at the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum every night.  We are your Athenaeum Fellows this year, and our duties include researching speakers, writing the “Fortnightly” articles, and introducing each guest.  Another little-known duty of the Ath fellows is to enforce the Ath dress code.  Unfortunately, this particular duty has become more well-known recently, because we have had to do it more often.  So, to save an awkward interaction with the next jean-wearer at the Ath, we have decided to address the issue in a public forum. (Get it?) First, there are some general standards to address, as well as a few important specifics regarding men’s and women’s attire. The hard and fast rules (the infractions we’re supposed to send you home for) provide a simple baseline: no shorts, jeans, t-shirts, or sandals.  But, more specifically, think of getting dressed for the Ath as getting dressed for a professional setting – not class, and not a cocktail party or ball.  We know CMCers like to keep it classy and have fun, so bring it to your outfit!  Just make sure to follow these rules, and you can express yourself and fit right in at the Ath, all at once.


It’s super fun to get dressed for the Ath.  Who doesn’t like dressing up?  But it’s also hard, because there are so many options.  More options also means more pitfalls.  When dressing for the Ath, please follow these easy rules of thumb:

  • Make sure your dress/skirt is an appropriate length!  This is probably the most common transgression we have seen this year.  At least half of your thigh should be covered!  A good rule of thumb is the fingertips rule—hold your arms relaxed at your sides, and if your skirt does not go past your fingertips, it’s too short (remember this rule from middle school?)

  • No bare shoulders: There are plenty of tube-top dresses that are fine to wear to the Ath—with a sweater or jacket.  Seriously, just throw on a sweater and you’re fine. Same goes for spaghetti straps: when in doubt, wear a cardigan.

  • Speaking of jackets, hoodies do not count as Ath-appropriate cover-ups.

  • Cleavage: avoid it.  If you are showing more cleavage than would be acceptable at a job interview, you are showing more cleavage than is acceptable at the Ath.

  • Be cautious about how tight your dress is.  Some tight dresses that are clearly styled for professional wear are OK, but in general, a skin-tight dress is a no-no.  Same goes for those cute patterned skirts—they tend to be both too short and too tight, so beware.  Make sure it follows the fingertip rule, and you would feel comfortable wearing that skirt to dinner with your Professor’s family.

  • A lot of the issues we see can be summed up like this: if it could ever be part of your outfit for TNC, don’t wear it to the Ath.


You guys get it easy.  Here are the basics of Athenaeum attire:

  • Dressy pants.  Suit pants, slacks, khakis, and cords are all acceptable for the right event and fall within the rules against jeans, shorts, or sweats.  Although cargo pants aren’t in any of these verboten categories, they aren’t really appropriate either.  Frayed or ripped clothing should probably be retired from your Ath collection.

  • A long-sleeved, button-front, collared shirt.  Although polos and other short-sleeved collared shirts aren’t strictly prohibited, they’re typically a little casual for most Athenaeum events.

  • Nice shoes.  Sandals are the only shoes we can’t allow, but there can be other misadventures in footwear.  Sneakers – even when they match your tie – aren’t usually appropriate.  It’s best to stick to leather dress shoes or nice boots or even, on some occasions, boat shoes.  (And try to wear a matching belt.)


Most nights at the Ath call for at least one other element, be it a tie, a suit jacket or blazer, or a sweater.  Remember that just as not all Ath events are the same, appropriate dress on different nights is not the same.  For political leaders and pundits, big-name writers and thinkers, or prominent business figures and so forth, a suit or blazer with a tie is usually your best bet.  For the less-bold names or the more artsy events – novelists, chamber music, readings – jackets and/or ties are less expected; a tie with a sweater or simply a jacket with an open collar work well.  Only rarely are nice pants and an open-collared shirt alone appropriate.

There are also a handful of peripheral items we’ve seen in Ath attire that probably shouldn’t be there.  Hats, even an otherwise classy fedora, don’t really belong in the Athenaeum, just as you wouldn’t see them in an office.  (Classical sartorial conventions consider wearing a hat indoors to be rude, particularly at a meal.)  And, unless you’re this guy, pocket the shades while you’re here – and don’t leave them atop your head.  Also, if you’re cold walking over, just wear a blazer or sweater – if it’s called a sweatshirt, it’s more designed for a workout than work.  Finally, please tuck the end of your CMC lanyard all the way into your pocket when you’re at dinner: it may sound picky but it makes a difference.

Last but not least, a head table heads-up: a jacket and/or tie is virtually always called for when dining with the speaker or performer.

There is always some discretion when making an outfit formal.  If everyone follows these rules, we won’t need to worry about having to send people back home to change.  The Ath is an amazing resource on campus.  It is a great place to come have dinner with your friends or meet new ones, hear some interesting talks, and practice your networking and schmoozing skills (lots of Professors and their husbands or wives come to the Ath).  It is a great venue for CMCers to practice skills of etiquette that will serve you well in your work lives.  That includes dressing.  We know how impressive our student body is, and we’re proud of it, as we know you are.  So make sure to reflect that, and dress to impress, when you go to the Ath.

bottom of page