Dress Code: Friend or Foe?

Recently there has been a very peculiar trend in the fashion world and among celebrities. During events that would normally require elegant formalwear some stars like Ryan Gosling and Rihanna are wearing pajamas. At first blush, this appears to be a bizarre attempt at a publicity stunt. It is easy to dismiss an odd fad like wearing pajamas to red carpet events. However, it does bring to the forefront questions like, why does it matter what we wear and, in the context of CLA, why do we need a dress code?

Parents often bring up legitimate questions and concerns in pointing out that uniforms are expensive, in wondering how a polo shirt is going to help their student in math and wondering why their child cannot wear something more comfortable.

So why do we require a dress code?

The fact is, we live in a culture that is growing more individualistic, selfish and autonomous and this self-sovereignty manifests itself in many interesting ways. Our culture values challenging any and all authority in our lives and expressing ourselves in what we wear is no exception. We see this in everything from celebrities wearing pajamas, to the current controversy over the decency of popular prom dresses (even public schools think the current trends are too racy) or in the day-to-day ways students seek attention or acceptance through what they wear.

Through having uniforms, we provide a haven for the students from these expectations of the culture and from their peers. A school administrator recently pointed out that the students secretly appreciate this. As strict as the school may be, students hold each other to a far more stringent standard with the severe punishment of being ostracized if they fail to dress to expectations. I later pointed this out to our high school students and they were almost unanimous in their agreement that this was true. They actually prefer going to their closet and picking a polo in one of three colors because all of the pressure is gone.

The reasons for having a dress code are deeper than simply relieving the pressure of dressing the right way in the eyes of your peers. The truth is that how we dress is more important than we often realize. It sends a message. It communicates who we are and what station we have in life. For example, doctors and lawyers dress a certain way. We would never return to a doctor who walks in wearing a sleeveless shirt and flip-flops or walk into a courtroom and trust our case to a lawyer who is wearing muddy boots and ripped up jeans. They need to look professional because they have an important job. The same is true for our students.

The fact is that students are developing a worldview that is greatly impacted by their education. To tackle this task well requires a sense of seriousness that is often undermined by casual clothes. Casual dress often leads to casual thinking, whereas uniforms or dressing up leads to structured and orderly thinking and behavior. A head of school once told me how they dress up in coats and ties on Wednesday and then have a casual Friday every week. He noticed an enormous difference in the student’s behavior and productivity. On Friday the place is a madhouse while Wednesday was the best day of the week because the students would act so professionally. I have found the same to be true here. Classroom management becomes much harder on dress down days whereas there is incredible focus and seriousness when students are required to dress up for a presentation. We are going about serious work and our dress should reflect that.

This is far from being a comprehensive treatise on the subject. However, I hope this gives some insight into the benefits of having a dress code. It serves the students in protecting them from the scrutiny of their peers, is conducive to a better learning environment and helps them feel the importance of the work at hand.

Please reference the Parent/Student Handbook to learn more about the philosophy behind CLA’s dress code starting on page 40. Included is a valuable resource found on page 41 under the heading, “Scriptural Guidelines for Dress,” which provides practical advise on working through the many issues surrounding how we dress.