Dressed for success, or for a nap?

September 5, 2010

Last week, classes began here at the university and schools nationwide should all be opening their doors this coming week (if they haven’t already). My mother also works at a university, and this weekend we were sharing our thoughts on the college student dress code we’ve noticed over the last few years.

I am floored at the number of students who deem it acceptable to attend class in their pajamas. From flannel pants to bootie shorts, torn T-shirts to spaghetti strap tanks, these young adults appear to be rolling out of their beds and into their classrooms.

This attire has always concerned me. I never went to class in pjs, and rarely left my dorm if I wasn’t showered. Sadly, I was in the minority. Everyday I saw people drag themselves to their desks (regardless of the class time or day) in various states of sleep and stank. Now working at the college, I am often disgusted by what I see (and smell) from some students.

Perhaps the students feel that by paying (or having their parents/guardians pay) for an education, they are entitled to dress however they please. Maybe they think that what they wear is irrelevant to the academic process.

These are not the only possible scenarios, but I would really love to know what makes students think that they should walk into class in their jammies.

I’ve always thought how a person dresses can be viewed as an extension of who they are as a person. By exhibiting a touch of your personality, your clothing can indicate to potential employers how seriously you take yourself and your work ethic while also giving a small insight into your character. Of course, this doesn’t tell everything about someone. I would be disheartened to hear someone founded their opinion of me only on how I dress. However, I am realistic enough to know how vain we all are and to accept that we all judge one another to some extent based on what we see.

At an academic institution, you never know who is visiting. You may pass the CEO of the company you hope to intern with as you cross the quad. The person beside you at the library could be the human resources representative for your dream job. A guest lecturer in your class might be looking for people to sign on for their new start-up. Your big break could be waiting for you at any moment.

Just as people should be aware that the material they post online might be viewed by potential employers (so no drunken party photos or obscene gestures, please), they must also realize that they are walking billboards for their future.

I’m not saying college students should always dress in suits, ties and skirts. Trust me, I don’t dress like a business professional either at work or on days off. But maybe people should consider their level of embarrassment if they were introduced to a very important person while wearing their favorite duck pajama pants.

If not out of respect for your education or your educators, take some time to wear decent clothes out of respect for yourself. Don’t misrepresent yourself and possibly miss out on a great opportunity simply because you were too tired to find your pants.

And take a shower, too. That one’s for the benefit of us all.



  1. I believe you are correct. And thanks so much for putting that visual (and the THUD sound you made upon hitting the floor) back in my head. Eep!

  2. I’m pretty sure that day I fell out of bed Junior year because I was late to class I still managed to wear real clothes to class…

  3. Yes, I taught for 4 years at Cornell (between grad school at Stanford and my current faculty position in California)—there is definitely a difference in expectations about clothing between the East and West Coast. Out here, if you see someone in a suit, they are most likely a Mormon missionary or a lawyer. Professors often wear t-shirts, or Hawaiian shirts if they want to be more formal. Wearing a tie is a sure sign that a faculty member has given up on teaching and research and is purely an administrator.

    The dress code for women is more complicated, as dressing “professionally” is generally a marker that someone is a clerical worker, rather than an administrator.

  4. Like I said, Jamie, there’s a time and a place for everything. I’m not knocking ducky pjs; I’m just asking that they stay out of the classroom.

  5. Interesting comment, gasstationwithoutpumps. I wonder if this difference in perception has to do with differences in mentality from east to west coast. You mentioned a generally casual atmosphere, so perhaps it isn’t an issue for students to be dressed down or in sleepwear.

    As far as professors, none of mine ever wore t-shirts. However, this could be attributed again to regionally accepted forms of dress.

    Many thanks for your perspective as both an educator and as a Californian!

  6. Don’t knock the ducky pajamas, you quack.

  7. I’ve been teaching at universities for 28 years now, and have never had a student come to any of my classes in pajamas. Extremely casual clothing is common here in California, so perhaps some of them were in pajamas, and I just didn’t realize it. I’ve gotten more formal with my clothes as I’ve put on weight, but t-shirts are still my normal clothes for lecturing in.

    I’ve encountered a few who did not shower often enough (and the fraction in that category does not seem to have changed much since I was a student).

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