It is an interesting contrast that we see upon entering a classroom at Franciscan University: a professor wearing a suit and tie lecturing to a room full of students wearing athletic shorts, leggings and slippers.
I was no different from the rest of these students when I first came to university; in fact, I definitely considered myself a freshman fashion icon in my cute jean shorts and graphic tees. Coming from a public high school with a “no one can tell me how to dress” attitude, I never thought twice about what I put on in the morning before class.
But eventually I started to become more and more aware of the stark contrast between professor and student. There was some sort of discrepancy in attitudes here, some sort of disconnect on what exactly should be expected in a classroom setting. And it wasn’t until I began to dress more formally myself that I realized I could never go back to the way I was dressing before.
Why do we dress more nicely or more formally for certain occasions? Primarily, we dress up for things that we consider important and worthy of respect. We dress nicely to Mass, on dates and to job interviews, just to name a few examples. The idea of showing up to a job interview in sweatpants is outrageous to us, and we could not possibly expect to be hired for a job after such a display.
When did school stop being valued on this same level? When did our education, which costs thousands of dollars and which involves learning under the greatest of minds, become equivalent in formality to a bowling night with our friends?
Our professors are experts in their fields, holding at least one, if not multiple, doctoral degrees each. Is that not worthy of honor and respect? In addition, think about how much of a blessing it is to just be attending university at all.
Most of us probably grew up in a community where going to college was standard, but in reality, only about one-third of Americans complete a bachelor’s degree. It is an incredible privilege to be studying at a university at all, and we should not take our degrees for granted; rather, we should see them for what they are — calls to do great things.
If you believe this about your education, then dress like it.
Man, as a body-soul composite, has a unique ability to express inner dispositions with outward expressions. We express the love we feel toward friends with a smile; we express the worship of our Lord by raising our hands at a FOP; we express disinterest in an event by taking out our phones and starting to scroll; we express closeness to our significant others by holding their hands. Humans simply cannot separate the spiritual from the physical.
This also applies to clothing. We have a unique ability to say something to those around us by the way we dress, and we shouldn’t waste it. Sure, casual clothing has its place in certain contexts. It can communicate to friends that you are comfortable in their presence, or it can communicate a readiness to engage in athletic or recreative activities.
But university is not one of these contexts. Casual clothing in the classroom communicates a casual attitude toward education. While our professors worked and studied for years and years in order to earn a place in the front of that classroom, we could barely be bothered to roll out of bed and put on an actual pair of pants.
These considerations are what motivated me to begin dressing more nicely to class. My personal philosophy is that I like to wear a skirt or dress whenever I can. And anyone who knows me knows that I definitely still wear jeans and a hoodie on lazy days. But to me, this is the exception, not the norm.
And, honestly, with this change came many personal benefits.
Changing the way I dressed helped me to grow in confidence and to feel more professional and respectable in class and at work. It helped me grow in discipline by making me wear sometimes less comfortable clothing, and it helped me to better focus on my studies on lazy days. And it made me more conscious of other areas in my life where I could improve as well, reminding me that I must be just as ladylike on the inside as I appear to be on the outside.
So perhaps we should all ditch the sweatpants and leggings and bring khakis and skirts back into fashion. (Added benefit: avoiding spandex-gate 3.0).