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Dress to Express

Vivian Sun '18

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The standards of dress have been a topic of contention during my time at Peddie, but the administration has changed it for the 2017-18 school year. Pete McClellan, Assistant Dean of Student Life, announced the modifications to the dress code during the first Community Meeting and said that “respectable” and modest clothing is acceptable.

The standards of dress state that shorts cannot be worn after fall term long weekend until spring break starts, but it doesn’t mention skirts or dresses. My freshman year, the dress code also stated what students could wear according to their gender – skirts were not listed for males.

There were some boys who wore skirts during that time period to protest. I am a naturally chilly person – I’m always shivering in my dorm room – so I agreed that shorts are a bit cold for winter, but skirts and dresses were fine with warm tights or leggings. However, I thought the idea that males could not wear skirts was silly.

This year, while the same rule about when to wear shorts is still in place, the handbook now lists what a student may wear, as opposed to what a male or female student may wear. The gender neutrality of the statement allows any student of any gender to dress any way they like, so long as it fulfills the standards of dress; males can wear “skirts, dresses, [or] rompers” if they want. I, for one, am glad that Peddie has taken this step to include students of all gender identities and to allow students to dress and express themselves freely.

Men wearing skirts may be considered “strange” by conventional gender norms, but I believe that allowing Peddie students to wear what they want, so long as it is “respectable,” as McClellan says, is a step towards true equality. I define feminism as equality of the sexes, so this is a feminist issue. Promoting equality, even within the dress standards, is a step in the right direction.

That being said, as they are now, the standards of dress are sufficient. Some may feel that they should be more lenient and should allow students to wear whatever they want to classes – without the “respectable” clause – but I disagree. How would we appear to prospective students if we could wear anything we wanted?

McClellan says, “At Peddie, we have a remarkably low standard of formality but we’re striving for a high standard of compliance. We’re getting away from that it’s not a[dress] code, it’s not rules. These are expectations, these are standards… the rules are important, but more important are our expectations of the kids, that students are consistently meeting a standard and perhaps even rising above those expectations.”

Don’t get me wrong: I love wearing sweatpants in my room. Even so, I wouldn’t wear
them to class unless I had to go to a sports game right away, or some other extenuating circumstance like that. We, as Peddie students, should rise to the occasion and meet or exceed the dress standards and expectations. If prospective students visit the school and see students wandering around in sweatpants, that says something about us. Sweatpants may be comfortable, but they’re not a great first impression – and first impressions are a bigger deal than many think. We are a prospective student’s first impression of Peddie, so we should make it a good one.

While looking “modest” or “respectable” does not warrant wearing sweatpants, it does not forsake comfort, either. We don’t need to show up in suits or in school uniforms. The standards of dress are lenient enough and the administration has already taken an important step in furthering the equality of the sexes at Peddie.

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Dress to Express