In 1904, a young student named Isaiah Hardeman arrived on the campus of Tuskegee Institute late in the sleeping hours of the night. Tired from his 500 mile journey, Hardeman went to sleep on the stairs of the Academic building. After waking up early in the morning he inquired where he could find Booker T. Washington. Impressively, when other students looked at this young ambitious yet unrefined aspirant, Hardeman recalled, “While I was waiting for Mr. Washington one of the young men at work in the office gave me a suit of HIS OWN clothes, AND two shirts!!”
Indeed these students understood the importance a first impression makes. Even though we would like to think otherwise, the reality is appearance matters. At Historically Black Colleges and Universities, students have ALWAYS been taught the importance of professionalism, decorum, and of dress. Take Ralph Ellison, for example, Ellison, the author of Invisble Man and Shadow and Act, while at Tuskegee was known for his “dashing style and fashion sense.” More importantly, the underlassmen looked up to Ellison and learned what it meant to be a gentleman and a man of renowkn just by how Ellison carried himself. One student recalled, “He was straight out of Esquire Magazine, his blue serge uniform was crisply tailored, his slacks contrasted smartly with his coats and his hand-tied bow ties and two-toned shoes were beyond the sartorial range of most of the other students.”
Schools like, Howard, Spelman, Hampton and Morehouse instill in their students from day one, the importance of dressing for success. These ideals are not without controversy. Within the past few years, Hampton and Morehouse have drawn considerable attention to their strict dress codes and traditions of “telling students” how they should dress. Several incidents at both institutions drew negative national attention when Hampton’s school of business put heavy restrictions such as no “dreadlocks, cornrows, or colored hair.” While Morehouse (along with Hampton, both private institutions) banned students from wearing women’s clothing and high heels.
Both these institutions have built strong reputations of teaching students how to be professional, and “respectable.” When both incidents hit the media, one of the main points of contention asserted that these institutions were stripping students freedoms of expression away. So we want to know, are these “proper attire” policies beneficial to students in the long run, or are they an infringement on personal expression? What would schools like Spelman, Morehouse and Hampton lose if they were to relax thier dress codes in return?
For additional info check out these articles: