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Step it up, please

| Monday, January 22, 2018

I think most of us can remember — some with dread, some with amusement — those “first day of school” photos our mothers made us take; brothers and sisters in their nicest new outfits or hand-me-downs (in my case) posed awkwardly in the front yard or by the school gates with our oversized backpacks and first day jitters.

Fast forward to the first day of this Spring semester. I was genuinely astonished by the number of casually and sloppily dressed students I saw walking around campus last Tuesday.

Sweatpants and Bean Boots for the first day of class? Are you serious? Would your mother like to take a first-day picture of you like that? Where are our manners and self-respect? I’m sure many will be skeptical of my censure, and perhaps that’s fair. My guess is that students at Notre Dame are not trying to insult their professors or disrespect their peers with their outfit choices. I doubt baggy-sweatshirt-and-messy-bun-sporting students are seeking to distract their seminar classes. I’m sure most casually dressed students don’t want to give off the impression that they take their academics just about as seriously as their morning routine, but that is precisely the message they send.

The underlying issue is that Notre Dame students don’t even think about the way they dress, the message they are sending and the larger implications fashion can have on an academics. To convince you, reader, to step up your game and resist our increasingly casual and sloppy campus, allow me to explain what dressing well means (I’m not suggesting blazers and ties for all) and why we should all do it.

A century ago, college students (mostly male) were expected to be put together and modestly dressed; starched shirts, ties, blazers, sweaters and even newsboys and bowler hates can be found in old pictures of students from Notre Dame, Boston College, Yale and many universities. Those styles and fashions are long gone, and while I may one of the few who laments at the aesthetic loss, they represented class differences that have since become more democratized.

In his recent piece “Dress Up” G. Bruce Boyer, former fashion editor for GQ and Esquire, explores the broader historical and cultural changes in American fashion and bemoans the “Casual Revolution.”

“There’s the eminently sensible argument that the jettisoning of the tailored wardrobe is merely a part of the larger and ongoing ‘democratization’ of dress that started to standardize the wardrobe with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and whereby we may all eventually be encased in the same synthetic coverall and molded plastic footwear,” he writes. “Still others will tell you the degeneration of the traditional wardrobe is all part of the ‘me’ generation retreat from social consciousness and public style, part and parcel of a general lack of empathy, manners, and responsibility.”

That’s a pretty harsh condemnation, but I fear he is right. We are thoughtless and lazy when it comes to our fashion choices.

It seems to me that we need balance. If dressing appropriately was an Aristotelian virtue, we should seek the mean. I see no need to return to perfectly tailored suits and woolen pencil skirts, but skin tight leggings, baggy or wrinkled clothes, or last night’s Feve attire (especially makeup) have no place in the classroom.

“Underlying [casualization] is not the triumph of one class but rather the loss among all classes of a sense of occasion,” Boyer continues. “By ‘occasion’ I mean an event out of the ordinary, a function other than our daily lives, an experience for which we take special care and preparation, at which we act and speak and comport ourselves ­differently — events which could be called ritualistic in matters of ­propriety and appearance.”

Class is an occasion, even if we go every day. We speak and act better in classes than we do when hanging out with roommates, so why shouldn’t we dress differently too?

There are good reasons to dress well, even if you want to disregard the history and tradition. Ever heard of “dress well, test well?” Putting effort into your appearance often helps you to feel more confident ready to attack the day. We are all here at the University to pursue truth, to learn. That’s serious business. If you think your education is important and worth being taken seriously, your appearance should match that.

Dressing well also shows respect to both your professors and fellows. Can you expect your philosophy professor to take your analysis of Hobbes seriously if you’re wearing pajamas and slippers? Dressing up shows that you take your education seriously, and shows the proper respect due to someone who has more Ph.Ds than you. Plus, with fashion current trends, you might stand out among a class of fifty sloppily dressed schmucks.

If nothing else can convince you to ditch your moccasins and oversized football shirt, please consider this: you never know who you’re going to meet — your future professor, girlfriend, employer or spouse might be on campus today.

So though you’ve lost the opportunity to take a nice first day of school picture, please step it up for the rest of the year. Respect yourself, your professors and your education.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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