The Art of University Dress Codes

The Art of University Dress Codes

Philosophy April 12, 2012 / By Mike LaBossiere
The Art of University Dress Codes
SYNOPSIS

An examination of the university dress code in the context of aesthetics.

My university, Florida A&M University (FAMU), recently adopted a dress code (or, to be more technical the trustees approved new dress standards). This code allows professors to prevent students from attending classes (or other functions) if the students are not dress appropriately. Previously only the school of business had a dress code.

There seem to be three main reasons for this code. The first is that it is taken as educational. That is, it is supposed to teach students what sort of dress will serve them best professionally and socially. The second relates to classroom order, namely it is intended to deter students from wearing clothing to class that could disrupt the class. The third is a matter of image, specifically that it is aimed at preventing students from wearing clothing that will make FAMU look bad.

While I have not (as of this writing) been supplied with a list of banned attire, it does include "do-rags", hoods, and the infamous underwear revealing "saggy pants." Rumor also has it that tube tops and t-shirts with inflammatory language will also be banned.

While the matter of dress codes can be approached in a variety of ways, I will approach it from an aesthetic standpoint. This will not be in terms of the beauty of the clothing but rather looking it the matter within the context of the branch of philosophy relating to art and beauty.

While a university is supposed to provide substance, it (like almost all things) can also be seen as an institute of appearance and, in many ways, as a stage upon which various theatrical roles are played. The role I happen to play is that of a professor. As might be imagined, this role does require knowing certain things. The same would seem to hold true for students as well. While they are not expected to know nearly as much as professors, they also have their roles to play. As with any role played out upon the stage, there is the expectation that the costume will match the part. That is, a professor should be costumed as a professor and not as something else, such as a marathon runner or a pirate. Likewise a student should be properly costumed as a student and not as a nightclub patron or thug. As such, a dress code could be seen as being on par with the costuming specifications for a play, movie or TV show and warranted on the grounds of aesthetics. That is, it would just not look right to have the actors costumed inappropriately. This ties in nicely to the second and third reasons. After all, an actor in the wrong costume can disrupt the production and, of course, make the theater company look bad. 

Another way to look at the matter is that the university is not only teaching students the material in the subjects of math, chemistry, philosophy and so on, but also training students in the matter of appearances. That is, students are also being trained for the proper aesthetics of the roles they will be taking on when they are working for the job creators. This, of course, ties nicely to the first reason given in support of the code, namely the training of the youth in how to dress professionally and socially. In this regard, the university can be seen as a literal dress rehearsal for the show that starts (hopefully) shortly after the students graduate. 

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