The Dress Code: Some Black College Students Embrace the Business-Casual Dress Code with Personal Style

By Evans, Ian | Diversity Employers, September 2008 | Go to article overview

The Dress Code: Some Black College Students Embrace the Business-Casual Dress Code with Personal Style


Evans, Ian, Diversity Employers


A young man wears a tailor-made black suit accentuated with mid-gray pinstripes followed by a mauve tinted French cuff dress shirt complemented with an eggplant bowtie striped with the colors gray, white and gold. He adds a personal touch of style with a set of suspenders, antique cuff links, a white presidential folded pocket square, vintage leather band watch and black leather dress shoes that complete the ensemble.

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Inarguably, Markus T. Cook has class-even when it comes to what he wears to class. The economics and finance major at Morehouse College "dresses to impress," as a standard for classroom attendance and campus image. This is a student who has no problem with emerging dress codes at historically Black colleges and universities because he already "dresses the part" in preparation for his future transition into the business world.

The importance of making a good, lasting first impression is vital, whether it's scholastic, business or social. These HBCU campuses echo written and unwritten rules on how it's imperative to present oneself with valor and high morale in public and private. You can ask any student who attends a HBCU about the importance of reputation and mostly all will put heavy emphasis on image.

"A first impression is the only impression, so I make sure that I am dressed my best at all times. I believe in being above average in all that I do, especially in presentation," Cook says.

Universities and colleges can no longer believe that students come to college fully equipped with the knowledge needed for them to survive in the business world. Booker T. Washington, an alum of Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) and founder of Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University), taught the basics of hygiene and dress along with academics and industrial labor.

More than a century after Washington founded Tuskegee (1881), the need to teach students basic presentation is still present. Clark Atlanta University addresses this by offering a program helping students to make adult decisions, including "dressing the part." Chris Clarke, marketing major, believes it is warranted.

"Education is just as important as style and presence and it must be taught together as a standard," Clarke says.

"Society demands something more in presentation of oneself. Attire is important in every field of academic study as well as business positions. Dress codes educate and influence students on what is presentable and appropriate for different occasions," says Jeremy D. Wilson, counselor and recruiter for Admissions and Enrollment Management at Tuskegee University.

Stride, communication and pride are critical to anyone when it comes to personal marketability, and clothing is a Key tool in sending the right message. When it comes to campus events such as balls, galas and cabarets, clothing that upholds class and refinement is standard. Then when it comes to socializing, going to the cafeteria or being on the "yard," a more casual, laid-back look is acceptable. Most importantly, attending class is an event in itself where students invest love, time, money and effort in presenting themselves to their peers and professors.

Clothing oneself for any occasion can be a task. The weather and season play a major part in choice of articles of clothing worn each day. Whether it's urban, high, era, modern, business or homage to a decade, they are all genres of fashion in which people take part. The public has to dress based on profession, occasion and status. People believe and wear what the media promote, and also what the profession requires. Many HBCUs are taking note and adding dress into the scholastic part of teaching, as it was commonplace in the past with enforcing dress codes. Dress codes support times past when it was the standard for students to wear the best and be the best.

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Dress code initiatives are being made at many historically Black institutions, leading students to ask themselves, "Should the everyday task of clothing oneself become a chore? …

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