Forget groufits, crocs, and socks and sandals: For Hillsdale students in 1955, “all freshman men who eat at East Hall must wear a white shirt and tie for the evening meal.”
According to “Formal Dress For Dinner,” an article published in The Collegian on March 10, 1955, “The main reason for the ties is that the Saga Food Service requires that their customers be attired with white shirts and ties for the evening meal. At all other schools where Saga is employed this procedure is in practice.”
While white shirts and ties definitively enhanced the Saga dining experience, there was a greater purpose in creating this dress code. The Collegian stated, “The big reason that shirts and ties are a must for evening wear is because Hillsdale has a chance to get a new quarter of a million dollar dining hall. The people that are going to support the new hall are judging the dining room by the people who eat in it, and if everybody looks sharp, they just might think that we’re worth it!” I guess the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” hadn’t quite gained its popularity yet.
The Collegian reported, “The new rule for dress proved very unpopular with the students. A petition was drawn up and signed by all the freshmen men. It was then taken to the dean and a compromise was made. The new agreement is, that shirts and ties will be worn on Monday, Friday and Sunday only. At all other evening meals, only a jacket and a closed shirt are required.”
By 1970, the student’s unhappy feelings regarding the dress code had changed very little, and on Feb. 26, 1970, The Collegian reported that “The Feb. 18 meeting of the Hillsdale College Federation saw some lively discussion of the dress code between students and President J. Donald Phillips.”
The article continued, “The opinion was expressed that students had come to Hillsdale because of its size and personal attention, not because those enrolled were neatly dressed.”
I, for one, can attest that the dress of students did not draw me to Hillsdale. If anything, it was something I had to grapple with for hours before making my decision: Could I handle seeing teenagers running around in shorts and Hawaiian shirts in minus 55-degree weather? I’m still waiting to see if I will survive witnessing this epidemic.
According to The Collegian, “President Phillips listened with patience to the students. He explained that ‘a private college must depend on the giving of other people to exist.’ Because of this, the appearance of every Hillsdale College student is important when a potential benefactor visits the campus.”
The suspension of the dress code in 1970 had some immediate, unseen, and unfortunate effects. In a Letter to the Editor published on May 14, 1970, a student questioned a fashion faux pas, asking, “Is there anything wrong with sitting in front of Central Hall with a sheet on your head? I thought the dress code here had been abolished.” Maybe the dress code wasn’t such a bad idea after all.