As a college instructor, parent, and campus minister for over 20 years, I’ve seen it all when it comes to the clothes students wear, or the lack thereof. I’m not particularly conservative or legalistic when it comes to dress, but I do think that some common sense is needed for the best interest of students, and to respect the learning communities of which they are a part. I am not attempting to destroy individuality; I firmly believe that one can dress both appropriately and creatively. I’m no fashionista, so my suggestions aren’t intended to make you the most stylish person around. I’m not a shopping diva, so I can’t point you to the best sales, but I can tell you that it doesn’t take an enormous budget to dress reasonably. And reasonability is my goal here, to avoid unnecessary and attention-seeking extremes.
Of course, this isn’t the most theological post I’ll ever write. I do intend this somewhat tongue-and-cheek. But still, there are some serious faith implications for how we think and feel about clothing. Jesus taught, “Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the lilies of the field. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.” In other words, you can surely spend too much and worry too much about these matters. In that light, here are a few common-sense suggestions for dressing in a sensible, simple, and considerate manner.
- Get dressed. Seriously. Wear actual clothes intended for public viewing. I get it that you were up late studying, but nobody wants to see what you slept in. Respect the people around you enough to look at least somewhat presentable in class.
- Dress according to the season. When in doubt, check the weather app on your phone. If it’s 30 degrees, avoid shorts and flip-flops. You look silly trying to look tough through your hypothermia.
- Wear clothes that fit. A blinding flash of the obvious I know. But you’d be surprised … actually, no, you aren’t surprised at how poor a judge people tend to be about what fits and what doesn’t. Here’s a hint – if it takes more than about 2 seconds to slip it on, it’s probably too tight. If you could fit another human being into it with you, it’s probably too big. The extremes look ridiculous to at least half of the population. You aren’t looking for that kind of attention, are you?
- Wear clothes that appropriately cover everything that ought to be covered. Remember that cameras are now ubiquitous, so think about that when you head out the door. Your clothes say something about you. What are you saying with your short shorts, low cut tops, muscle shirts, skin tights skirts, or leggings?
- Don’t wear clothes intended for a specific activity unless you’re engaged in that activity, or on your way to or from that activity. Let me be more specific. Yoga pants are for yoga. Gym shorts are for the gym. Hiking pants are for hiking. That makes sense, yes?
- Wear clothes that go together. Please, I beg of you, no shorts with snow boots. No jeans with a tuxedo. No running shoes with a dress. No dark calf socks with athletic attire. These may seem trendy to you at the moment, but trust me, you’ll be embarrassed one day.
- Avoid clothes obviously intended to draw attention to you. Whether you realize it or not, vulgar tee shirts, extreme colors, and stripes with plaids are all screaming to those around you, “Hey, look at me!!” Is that really what you want to scream?
- Ladies, always wear pants. Always. Tights are not pants. Leggings are not pants. Yoga pants only count as pants if you’re at yoga (see #5). If you aren’t sure whether you have on pants, go put on some pants.
- Gentlemen, no tanks. Nobody wants to see your deodorant coated armpit hair, no matter how large your biceps are. If you are a weight-lifting athlete, I grant you a once per day exemption to this rule, if and only if you are in the gym. After that, put on a tee shirt.
- When you stop growing, buy fewer items of higher quality. This is just a practical tip. When you’re growing a couple of inches a year, you do what you have to do to get by. When you stop growing, start building a reasonably better wardrobe. Most people wear about 20% of what’s in their closet. Only buy items you like better than the 20% of stuff you currently wear. Buy less but get higher quality. You’ll like it better, it’ll last longer, and you’ll save money in the long run.
- Clean out your closet every year and give away what you haven’t worn. The principle here is simplicity. There is no sense owning what you don’t need. It takes up limited closet space, makes your other clothes wrinkled, and makes it more difficult to find the clothes you want to wear.
- A summary principle – your clothes say something about you. What do you want to say? What are you actually saying? Do these two questions have the same answer?