Hot Seams: “Excuse me! You’re out of dress code.”
If you’ve ever entered a school, a nice restaurant or a club when you were improperly dressed, you may have heard some of these expressions before: “Your skirt is too short,” “your jeans are too baggy,” or “your shoes are the wrong color.”
Are dress codes even necessary? Do they limit our creativity and self-expression as fashion-loving beings? As we all know, fashion can be used to express our passions, who we are, and where we’re from. The way we dress can say so much about ourselves—often if you look at a stranger in class, you are able to pick up on some aspects of his or her personality.
Ever been to Compton? Wearing red or blue shows both loyalty and association. If you’re caught wearing the wrong color, there could be serious consequences for you. Vacationing in the Hamptons? If you’re not wearing Lily Pulitzer, some kind of polo or Sperry TopSiders, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb. If you ever travel abroad, you’ll find that many people wear items reflecting their ethnicity, religion or occupation.
History of dress codes
Where did the idea of dress codes originate? Native Americans robed themselves according to their social class, as did many other cultural groups around the globe. Nobles, slaves and commoners never dressed alike. Hair length and body art displayed both one’s status and accomplishments.
How do they affect us today?
In schools across the nation, dress code violations are subject to various punishments. On the collegiate level, Morehouse College has recently implemented an 11-item campus-wide dress code, which includes a ban on items like sunglasses and caps. Hampton University and Bennett College also have a dress code policy. Though such policies are not common on college campuses, there is a method to the administrators’ madness. In an article by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published last month, Dr. William Bynum, vice president of the Office of Student Services at Morehouse, was quoted as saying, “We know that how a student dresses has nothing to do with what is in their head, but first impressions mean everything.” Thus, Morehouse College is using clothing to create or enhance an image. Even though we use fashion as a form of self-expression, we are also being judged before we speak.
In the workplace, dress codes are highly stressed. Even in the fashion industry, companies such as Liz Claiborne have posted dress code policies on intern application sites to ensure that future employees do not take the culture too lightly. Want to be taken seriously by your colleagues? It is often recommended that you wear a suit. Suits in the ’80s weren’t called power suits for nothing.
How can you avoid the embarrassment of violating a dress code? Research a company, restaurant or university’s Web site, and use common sense. Some of the banned items from Liz Claiborne include sweatpants, tube tops and beachwear. At Morehouse, students are not allowed to wear do-rags indoors, and men are not allowed to wear women’s clothing at school-sponsored events. Dress codes were created to ensure that members of a group look uniform and united. They can be used to signify a variety of social classifiers like social status, socioeconomic background or tribe.
If you’re looking for ways to express your personality through the things you wear, consider colors or patterns of acceptable clothing that appeal to you. Since dress codes can be found in countless areas of daily life, it’s important to become aware of them and to determine what is appropriate for certain situations. Good luck if you’re a non-conformist.