Dress Rehearsal: How uniform codes prepare students for life beyond high school

School dresscode
School dresscode

This article is one of the winning submissions from the New York Post Scholars Contest, presented by Command Education.

Sunday night. The weekend is coming to a close. The imminent dread of Monday is on the horizon. Being the good student you are (or at least hope to be), you heed Alexander Graham Bell’s advice, and stuff your bag with all the things you may possibly need to have a demerit-free day at school. “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.”

Most students usually overlook what true preparation really means. Being prepared isn’t just about punctuality. Being prepared isn’t just about cramming every colored pen or highlighter into your pencil case. Being prepared isn’t just about meticulously completing every problem of your physics homework. Being prepared also involves looking presentable.

Looking presentable has a noticeable effect, no matter what type of learner you may be. Proper attire most certainly is the first step. Even Einstein agrees, “One picture is worth a thousand words.” That’s around the number of words in this entire article, intricately embedded in just one visual representation. Some high schools like mine have uniforms: dress shirt, tie, school sweater, dress pants, belt and black dress shoes. But it doesn’t stop there, the “uniform” also encompasses being well-groomed: a smooth, clean-shaven face, neat traditional haircut and absolutely no garish piercings. Our school handbook notes, “Monsignor Farrell High School strives to promote in its students an attitude of self-pride about dress and grooming which will result in students appearing neat and clean at all times.”

Sometimes the “looking presentable” list can feel endless and not the most ideal, especially in the morning when time is limited. Students might rush and put on whatever they can get hold of so they aren’t late for the bell. Forgetting key parts of the required uniform may result in getting caught by the most feared individual in any school. The Dean.

Even if your school does not have a specific uniform, they generally have a dress code, a certain style of attire students are encouraged to follow. Dress codes are one of the most questioned yet enforced school rules with almost “93% of school districts” having “dress codes or policies on what students wear to school” according to the Government Accountability Office and Education Week article “School Dress Code Debates, Explained” by Eesha Pendharkar.

Even my school recently sent students an email containing the line “A Monsignor Farrell man dresses for success.” All students are expected to adhere to the school’s dress code by reporting to class in a “complete” school uniform. The email also stressed that each student must be orderly in how the uniform is worn, “Dress shirts with button-down collars should be buttoned.” Although I wasn’t too upset, many students grumbled and questioned the school’s firm take on how students should come dressed. I, too, became a little curious. Is being unkempt really that detrimental?

During a conversation my class and I had with our Spanish teacher regarding preparation and school policies, she described a local experiment called the “Broken Windows Theory,” performed by the New York Police Department in 1982. Upon doing further research, I was able to understand that the “Broken Windows Theory” (executed by the NYPD following long periods of uncertainty and high rates of local crime), was an attempt to find a better way to resolve or mitigate the problem. Once complete, the experiment proved the theory that combating “small problems” or visible disorders such as vandalism, litter and broken windows in abandoned buildings would combat and even “prevent more serious crime from occurring,” according to the Lloyd Sealy Library of John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Through my research, it became clear that small actions to improve a society or environment have been proven useful in combating larger conflicts. Small actions can mitigate or take away disorders that may lead to larger detrimental behaviors. The “Broken Windows Theory” had, in effect, been implemented into my high school’s academic setting through our handbook’s “presentability clause”. If students are not allowed to get away with small factors of concerns like poor appearance or preparedness, then students may be less skeptical to challenge more severe rules, knowing the presence of enforcement and consequences for the smaller ones.

In addition to this, the enforcement of dress codes and uniforms may be largely done as an effort to prepare students for a future in the professional world. Although some challenge the approach, labeling presentability as unimportant especially beyond a high school setting. It is important to understand that most academic institutions today like mine, follow a college preparatory approach, aiming to train students with important skills to succeed as the progress in their academic career. Encouraging students to dress professionally may allow them to develop a form of preparation that can stem far into the future, including college.

Although it may not be ideal to wear a tie every day, good presentability evokes emotion and helps set an image that stands out, regardless of the occasion. During our analysis of the novel, “The Great Gatsby”, we see how F. Scott Fitzgerald illustrates this idea by describing Gatsby’s striking appearance and clothing as he awaited Daisy’s arrival. Nick Carraway notes “Gatsby, in a white flannel suit, silver shirt and gold colored-tie hurried in”. Despite being quite poor when they first met, Gatsby prepares for Daisy’s arrival by dressing in flashy attire, hoping to create a new image that reflects his wealth and success. Through his actions, Mr. Gatsby exhibits the unparalleled amplitudes of presentability and appearance, captivating people through its unique elegance—and simple beauty—regardless of the atmosphere.

Dress codes. Some like them. Some hate them. Some advise them. Some despise them. Regardless of how students may feel, proper presentability is a crucial part of preparing for school no matter your age, gender or location. Although at times it may feel far from ideal, a good presentation does not go unnoticed. Proper presentability allow schools to build safer environments, prepare students for the future, and encourage new beginnings. Dress codes inspire students to set a positive image that evokes emotion, showcasing the brilliant individuals they truly are, so like Gatsby they too can stand out and chase new academic beginnings. Good Luck, Old Sports!

An 11th-grader at Monsignor Farrell High School on Staten Island, Perera hopes to pursue a career in cybersecurity and digital law enforcement.