A Dress Code for the College Classroom?

One important responsibility of a teacher is to create a classroom setting conducive to learning, one that minimizes distractions (not only for the students but for the teacher as well). Among typical distractions we all know about cell phones and food, but increasingly student clothing has become a distraction for all. I’ve attempted to fix the problem at the beginning of the year by adding a section on “dress” in the “classroom decorum” section of the syllabus. Here’s how it reads:

Dress like you mean it. Whether or not we like it, the way we dress is a form of communication. The way I dress tells you a few things: (1) what I think of myself; (2) what I think of you; (3) what I think about the nature of the activity that takes place in this classroom. As to the first—I am a person created in the image and likeness of God, with dignity. My identity and dignity as an image and likeness of God demands that I take care of my body, as it, in union with my soul, constitutes my very person. As to the second—you are persons created in the image and likeness of God, with a  destiny to be with him eternally in heaven. Your great dignity demands that I present my best self to you. Your worth demands that I not come here all slovenly and disheveled. If I didn’t clean up before arriving here, it might communicate to you that you aren’t that important to me. As to the third point—I wear formal attire because the nature of our activity is formal, serious, and professional. I set the tone for what we are doing by what I am wearing. Think about how this is true in other contexts–e.g., football (pads vs. no pads day), theatre (rehearsal vs. dress-rehearsal). If you are going to yoga class, you wear yoga pants. If you are going to a Packers game, you might wear a Packer’s jersey. If you are going to work out in the gym, you wear your sweat pants, etc. If you are coming to a class at University, you should look like you take this seriously. Dress in a way that helps YOU take the class seriously. Tell me what you think of yourself, what you think of me, and what you think of your class based in part on what you wear. Again, whether or not you like it, you ARE saying something through what you wear. What do you want to say?

My efforts might be wrongheaded, but I can report that this semester some men and women have dressed more intentionally for class–to the benefit of all. Do other people have thoughts on this question? How can we best dispose our students to be ready to learn when they enter the classroom?

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2 thoughts on “A Dress Code for the College Classroom?

  1. You articulate well the importance of dress code. You lay out principles and leave it to them to make the proper application. My one concern would be that your statement is too successful. Proper dress is good but is it one of the 2 or 3 things you want students to take with them after the first day of your class? It might be more appropriate for a first year course (or university initiation) than for later courses.

    • Thanks for that critique. You might be right that it’s better for freshmen only. The two students who asked me about it during our “office hours meeting” were both students who have never had me as a teacher before, and one was is a freshman. Interestingly, the dress code did inspire a conversation with one student about modesty and the dignity of women. I wish I could say that the statement has caused a big change in the way people dress, but there are at least some people who have taken it seriously.

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