By Grace Gilson
The dress code has become a prominent consideration in the 2021-2022 school year. During the previous year, the dress code was relaxed, A LOT, because the main concern was making certain that Upper Schoolers wore masks correctly. But, at the start of the 21-22 year, it became important again in an attempt not only to return back to normal, but to look presentable as visitors were welcomed back on campus. No teacher has been more ardent about enforcing the dress code than Ms. Day, a history teacher. Many students can attest to being approached by Ms. Day, being asked their name, and then receiving a point, three of which lead to a Saturday detention. Of course, in the moment, this is met by an eye roll, no one wants a point for something that feels as insignificant as a sweatshirt. But, I think it is important to understand Ms. Day’s motives. Why is she so passionate about the dress code? What is so important about the dress code anyway? To get to the bottom of this I emailed the big bad dress code wolf herself, here is the interview:
What is the purpose of a dress code? Why have one?
Going to school is a place where we have business to do. Your job is a student, my job is a teacher and there are appropriate ways to dress at different places. Going to school is not going to take a nap, even if it is comfortable, as Mr. Morse said when he was dean of students spending some time to “look good” in the morning makes you “feel good” throughout the day.
Is the language of the dress code meant to be perceived word for word? or should it be more loosely implemented?
There have been problems with the dress code as long as I have been here. If you ask any school with a dress code, regardless of the dress code, teenagers will challenge it. No problems get solved by changing the dress code drastically. The point of the dress code is to look presentable. If you wear something I won’t notice, you won’t get a point, but if you wear something blatantly out of dress code (i.e. something advertising a college, band, or a famous singer). They ARE guidelines, but I target a few specific things that I find the most important. I try to give people a chance to get in the dress code by suggesting they put on a coat or change. It is a flexible and lenient dress code, and you can still be pretty comfortable without getting three points and a detention.
What was your dress code in school? What did you wear on a day-to-day basis?
I went to WRA and we DEFINITELY had a dress code and it was DEFINITELY more strict, which probably every private school is more strict than our school. The dress code was more strict on the boys than the girls, and the boys were always complaining that the girls got away with murder while they had to wear a coat and tie. If I wanted to wear pants I had to wear a blazer, and there were definitely no sweat pants and sweatshirts.
What’s wrong with blue jeans?
I’m open to changing the guidelines. I think it would be great for students to have a voice in that and to work with the administration. I used to be a dean, and that is how I got into this role of enforcer. I think it would be awesome to get students to talk with their peers and work with the administration to find common ground. We actually did try blue jeans years ago, because a faculty member pointed out that students could look nice in blue jeans. For some reason they went away, but yes, blue jeans have definitely come a long way, but I think students could bring that up.
Technically, if you have a polo shirt or a button-down shirt, it is ok to have a little logo. It is sweatshirts or athletic wear that is not alright, like a big Nike across the front. Ultimately we are trying to get away from SLEEPWEAR and ATHLETIC WEAR. The reason we still allow people to wear HB t-shirts and sweatshirts is to promote school spirit. When somebody wears a University School sweatshirt that is not showing school spirit, and the boys are not walking around wearing HB stuff! Having a small logo on a dress shirt or knit top. It is t-shirts that make it look like athletic wear.
If it doesn’t have CLEMSON or DARTMOUTH written across the front I won’t notice it’s a sweatshirt. WE used to be strict about pants having a zipper or a button until companies produced pants that had zippers and buttons. I think if you wear a decent top with leggings you can look nice. It’s very tricky which is why we are trying to focus on the big ones like sweatpants.
One thing that surprised me about this interview is that Ms. Day is very open to flexibility from students. She has nothing against blue jeans personally, but she enforces the dress code as it is written. Taking this into account, I wonder if there is a way we can set up a sort of dress code council that consists of students, teachers, and administrators, to begin to update the dress code depending on the trends of the year.
I also think that one point I found interesting was the dilemma of college sweatshirts. Of course, there is the classic: “you don’t go to US so why are you wearing a US sweatshirt,” but Ms. Day added in, “Is anyone at US wearing an HB sweatshirt? No!” Going forward, I think it should be a special senior privilege to wear the sweatshirts of the colleges you have applied to and the college you are going to, since it is a really proud moment to be accepted to college.
I appreciated Ms. Day’s shortened version of the dress code: No Sleepwear, No athletic wear. I thought it really helped to understand her fundamental understanding of the dress code. Yet, with the pandemic, sleepwear and athletic wear really became a prominent part of fashion. How is a school meant to adapt to trends? What does it mean to look nice? To someone who is older? To someone who is younger?
In middle school, I had a uniform. Personally, I miss the simplicity of this. Wake up, put on a polo, kilt, and sweatshirt, and potentially some sweats to wear to and from school. Easy. Though, I guess high school is about trying new things and learning how to make choices responsibly. I for one have begun to craft my own sort of uniform. Black pants with an HB sweatshirt or sweater.
Ultimately, I think the dress code will prove to be a conflict until the end of time… As Ms. Day said, we are teenagers. We exist to challenge things. Dress in a way that looks good and makes you feel good, and realize that being dress-coded only serves to help you give off a better image.
“You know the message you’re sending out to the world with these sweatpants? You’re telling the world, ‘I give up. I can’t compete in normal society. I’m miserable, so I might as well be comfortable.”
― Jerry Seinfeld