Home Commentary Op-ed College Daze: Dress to Impress

College Daze: Dress to Impress

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When Hampton University, one of the country's Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), introduced strict hair and grooming policies, banning such hairdos like cornrows and dreadlocks and requiring suits be worn to class as part of a conceptual program for their five-year MBA students, it sparked controversy both on the campus and in the local community.
These strict codes were intended to mold the behavior and appearance of business students in preparation for the corporate world; a ruling they hoped would make the transition easier after a student complied with the policies for five years. Outside of the business school the university's policies do not allow students to wear baseball caps, do-rags, tube tops, short shorts or any type of clothing that exposes too much skin while in the classroom, cafeteria or at certain university-sponsored events.
Whether the decision made by the dean of Hampton University was credible or conflicts with the underlying principles of minorities wanting to attend an HBCU, is open to further debate. Ideally, individuals are more than their physical appearance, however, it does shed light on one of the very harsh realities college students must brace themselves for before entering corporate America.
I have been told numerous times that "first impressions are lasting ones" and that "perception is reality." These sayings resonate through to the way in which you present yourself. If you arrive at a job or even a classroom sloppily dressed, people may question your ability to perform. As to hair care, the same applies, with the thought that if you cannot take the time to tend to your own needs and upkeep, you will not take the time to care for the needs of anyone else. The flip side to that, of course, is perhaps one spends so much time focusing on their studies and homework that personal care no longer becomes a priority.
College is a time to develop as an individual and young adult, but it is also a prime time for self expression. Yet, there is something to be said about the trend of college students going to class clad in pajamas and hair scarves. College is preparation for the road ahead and an opportunity to shape your professional career with regards to intellect and image. In many jobs this requires that you present yourself in a particular manner.
Even if your goal is to go into business for yourself, there is consideration that the type of business you open will cater to a particular clientele that may measure your ability and credibility by your appearance. This appearance is something that an employer may expect to mirror the customer with whom you are dealing. After you have achieved a certain level of success, the judgment scales may begin to level, as word of mouth and success rates begin to speak for themselves.
Hair and dress are not definitive indicators by which intelligence and success can be measured, but they affect conceptions and notions that people may have about you, which unfortunately can be detrimental to one's future. Truth is, whether in school or the working world, you can feel free to express yourself creatively, religiously, or any way you choose with hopes that people will accept you as you are. But, some employers will state that the way you present yourself, based on the field of work you are seeking, is key to securing a job.
I feel that there is something about a suit that makes the clients I interact with daily take my 5-foot-1-inch frame more seriously. Others will go so far as to say that in a suit, everything about a person improves, from their posture to their body language. I am a fan of a dress code and have always preferred to be overdressed than underdressed for any occasion, as I have been told that one should dress for the position they are seeking, not the one in which they currently sit.
So in the mean time the question is whether or not to conform? Since enforcing the policy in 2000, Hampton University officials have noted that most students have complied with the rules, and their zero tolerance policy has left those unwilling to adhere to the guidelines, seeking other programs within the school.
Even at the college level, your professors and deans will have you make decisions that may affect the career path you choose. Perhaps it is worth a try, even in your next scheduled meeting with a college advisor or professor. Presenting yourself well dressed and nicely groomed can very well affect how they feel you will manage your school work versus showing up to their office in pajamas.
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