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What to wear to Thesis Defense

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Something presentable but comfortable. I wore nice pants and a blouse for a summer defense. I think the most important thing is for you to feel good in your clothes, because there will be enough other things to stress you out. 

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I'm nowhere near the defense yet, but I've thought about this for my oral prelim defense and the public talks that students in my program have to give annually starting in the second year. I would choose whatever makes you feel strong and confident. In my case, that would be nice black pants that fit exactly right (too loose/unstructured makes me feel sloppy), and a fitted cardigan or blouse that won't make me sweat or freeze (and won't show sweat stains if I decide to sweat anyway). A suit would be too hot for me because I get very warm in front of an audience, and I think I'd feel silly in one, like I'm playing dress-up. [This wouldn't apply to you if you're used to suits or your program/field culture encourages them.]


I strongly recommend against buying new garments specifically for your defense without wearing them for something else first. You never truly know how something will fit and feel after it's been stretching and moving with you for a few hours until you try wearing it. Things to watch out for are pants that suddenly increase in size after you've sat in them for a while and shirts that turn out to have very itchy seams/tags or shift in strange ways on you. These are not surprises you want to discover in front of your thesis committee. 

Edited by Taeyers
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This really varies by department. If you can find out what other grads have worn, that might be helpful. Because, for example, no one ever wore a suit for their defense in my department as that was against departmental culture.

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