American fashion designer Rachel Zoe once said, “Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak.” When choosing what to wear, you are choosing how to present yourself to others.Your peers notice, your professors notice, and yes, you notice. In other words, what you wear says a lot about what you think of your peers, your betters, and, perhaps most of all, yourself.
Now, you don’t have to have an existential crisis every time you open your wardrobe in the morning, but it is worth keeping in mind a healthy sense of your own self-worth — and the respect you owe those around you — when choosing your outfit.
Now, as a school that values the concept of self-government, I do not believe Hillsdale College should institute a dress code. Forcing college-aged students to present themselves in a manner they do not wish to wouldn’t be consistent with the values of self-government Hillsdale stands for. That said, Hillsdale students would do well, of their own free will, to present themselves as students worthy of the matchless academic training they receive at Hillsdale in the way they dress.
Many students, certainly more than virtually every other college I have seen, do just that. And I think this is a testament to the character of my fellow Hillsdale students. But I have seen my fair share of pajama bottoms and sweatpants, or, the greatest fashion faux pas of all, socks with sandals.
I get it, it’s comfortable and not everyone has time to find a great outfit every day on campus. But there are several ways you can dress neatly and respectfully without damaging your productivity in layers of stuffy, stiff clothing. It’s as simple as opting for the button-down blouse instead of the oversized t‑shirt, or slipping on a pair of jeans instead of sweatpants.
While dressing well may look different for different people, a decent respect for the opinions of mankind should compel Hillsdale’s students to “dress for success,” as the old adage goes. According to a 2014 Yale study, “wearing nice clothes in the office can affect the way people perceive you.” At college, students often feel more focused, confident, and alert if their outfit projects these qualities.
In fact, wearing clothing you could just as easily wear to sleep at night can have the opposite effect. You’re mentally primed to doze off, not write a paper.
For over a century, Hillsdale students have stood out for their commitment to the study of that which is good, true, and beautiful. Let’s continue to present our values in the way we dress, too.
Sarah Weaver is pursuing a master’s degree in the Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship.