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Dressing better makes a difference

| Friday, January 26, 2018

Earlier this week, a new columnist wrote about dressing well and lit a fire in the Viewpoint section, the likes of which any opinion columnist would be proud. Since there are two articles against her point, it is only fair to present another argument for why you should dress better for class, or for why you should at least give it a try. I agree with the original column’s end, though based on the responses, its means inspired passionate division, rather than thoughtful and potential change.

If you just read the response articles, you might think the original column argues that you are a dumb, lazy and a potentially bad person if you do not dress well for class. The original columnist isn’t actually that judgmental –– she’s pretty nice. In any case, this column will begin from this statement: Your choice of clothing has nothing to do with and does not reflect those negative qualities. Sometimes we’re sick, tired or just haven’t done laundry in three weeks. I get it. I have been, and still sometimes am, guilty of it. Plenty of my close friends wear sweatpants or leggings to class every day.

The issue of dressing well or not dressing well comes down to two considerations that have no bearing on your intelligence, work ethic or morality. The first consideration is the margin. There is benefit, however marginal, to you and your education from dressing well. You will still receive the same education and may even be smarter than the kids who choose to dress well. But the quality of your education here depends upon the margins. The quality depends on what you do both inside and outside of the classroom. Not just that you attend class, but that if you engage readings and visit office hours, you can learn and explore important questions more deeply and thus, receive a higher quality education. Bottom line is that you should take particular actions outside of class to gain more from your education. In the same way, taking particular actions inside of the classroom can help you. Taking notes on paper instead of on a computer, for example. Choosing to dress well for class is another intentional decision that can help you in the classroom.

Dressing well for class can help you because of the second consideration: respect. This is a respect both for yourself and your professor. It does not mean that disrespect exists before dressing well, but it does mean that more respect exists after that decision. We all recognize that our professors dress well, day in and day out. Some would prefer that their students choose to dress well provided they have the means to do so, but others are not affected by their students’ choice of attire. Here’s where the respect plays in. Simply put, if it’s good enough for the people who have dedicated their careers to the subject which they are now teaching you, then it’s good enough for you. Professors get tired, sick and forget to do laundry. They also have full-time jobs, bills, kids, spouses and more to worry about. And they still find time to dress respectably. So ultimately they may not care whether you wear khakis or sweatpants, but choosing to wear khakis may show professors an intentional level of respect befitting the occasion of their class. And this result will be purely good. So why not?

Ultimately, the choice to dress well for class is a small one. But for how little it requires, it can make a difference that contributes to the quality of your education as professors may see a more serious, intentionally respectful student. Even if they do not, the choice to dress better nevertheless reflects a higher level of respect for the academic environment and your place in it. The original columnist did make a good closing point: You never know who you will meet, and you should want to make a good impression on someone who could be important to you. Setting this small choice in the context of a potentially life-changing situation gives the choice particular force. It should provide enough force for you to try, at least once, leaving the sweatpants in the drawer and dressing better for class.

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

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About Nicholas Marr