Opinion

Modesty in the Classroom

Many people believe that dressing modestly means covering up the female body, or even see modesty as a way for men to oppress women by ‘forcing’ them to dress conservatively. Some feminists even partake in ‘slut walks’ in which participants wear very little clothing in an attempt to normalize immodest attire for women. 

Personally, I would never condemn a person for his or her choice of clothing. If someone chooses to dress modestly, then that is her choice. If she chooses not to dress modestly, then that is also her choice. Nevertheless, I want to make the argument for modest clothing and talk about how dressing modestly can improve one’s daily life.

Modesty, at least to me, means dressing appropriately for any given situation. It would be immodest for a guest at a wedding to wear a wedding dress, just as it would be immodest to wear a three-piece suit to the beach. While the clothing we choose to wear is ultimately a personal choice, I feel that students at Trinity—both male and female— have a lesson to learn about modesty. 

Clothes can greatly affect our subconscious. This is a phenomenon called enclothed cognition. Hajo Adam, assistant professor at Rice University and a doctor of Organizational Behaviour, and Adam Galinsky, renowned American social psychologist, conducted a study on clothing’s effect on cognitive performance. They concluded that clothing has a symbolic meaning to people’s subconscious and that particular items of clothing can have either positive or negative effects on cognitive performance, based on the traits to which we assign those pieces of clothing.

Clothing can affect cognitive ability simply based on the activities or traits we associate with other people who wear those kinds of clothes. In Adam and Galinsky’s research, they discovered that people had greater cognitive abilities when they believed they were wearing a doctor’s coat, as opposed to when a different sample of people wore the same coat, but believed it to belong to a painter. However, the sample group who wore the painter’s coat showed higher levels of creativity. 

Another example is business attire, such as blazers, button-down shirts, pencils skirts, etc. Many Americans associate with these articles of clothing traits such as professionalism, determination, and monetary success. While wearing clothes with these kinds of traits attached to them, one is more likely to embody those traits and subconsciously change one’s behaviour in order to model these kinds of traits. 

Professors typically dress nicely to send a message of maturity, intelligence, competence, and professionalism. Why should students not convey this message as well? At the very least, students should attempt to mimic the level of respect that the professor shows for the class. If a professor comes to class most days wearing jeans and T-shirts, then casual attire is modest and appropriate for that class. But if a professor comes to every class in a tie and blazer, then students should also try to dress a bit more formally for that class. Of course, it’s not practical to change clothes before every class. But students ought to find a happy medium between over and under-dressed.

Most American college students dress very casually for class, and Trinity students are no exception. When attending classes, though, a certain level of dressiness is appropriate. While it is certainly easy and convenient to attend class in basketball shorts, a pair of sweatpants, or even one’s pajamas, these kinds of outfits are not modest or appropriate for the classroom. Most professors I have had at Trinity dress far less casually than their students. Even my more casual professors still wear, at the very least, a pair of dark jeans and a nice shirt. Meanwhile, students typically show up to classes in a mix of T-shirts, tank tops, sweatpants, basketball shorts, crop tops, and leggings. Why should students not put as much effort into their appearance as professors? 

Clothing like basketball shorts, leggings, and sweatpants certainly have their uses, and there is a time when they are appropriate and modest clothing choices, like when one is at the gym or otherwise working out. However, if it can be avoided, these types of clothes are not appropriate for the classroom. Exercise-type clothes are too casual for the classroom; they give the impression that you’re heading to the gym, rather than the impression that the wearer is ready for class and to learn in an academic environment. These kinds of clothes–just like all clothes–have a time and place when they are appropriate and modest to wear. 

The classroom requires a different kind of dress than the gym or the beach. Of course, many Trinity students have to rush to or from a PE class to fulfill Trinity’s pathways requirements and have no time to change outfits before attending their other, academics-based classes. It’s much more important to be on time and prepared for class than dressed in a particular way. Still, at a school with as much emphasis on academics as Trinity University, it is important that we students put our best effort into our classes. Besides completing homework and doing the reading, a part of being prepared for class is showing up on time and being dressed to succeed. Pajama and exercise-type clothes can put you in the headspace to go to sleep or to go work out–not to take notes or think deeply about a class discussion. 

Pajamas are not appropriate clothes to wear to class for the same reason that your mom tells you not to study in bed. Your bed is for sleeping, and your desk is for studying. So too, are your pajamas for sleeping and your non-pajamas are for being awake and productive.

Think of the last time you dressed up. Was it for a job interview? For Church? A date? Dressing up for special occasions helps us to have higher self-esteem. Why not dress up on a daily basis, even if it is just to feel better about yourself? Clothes have a function and value beyond simply covering the human body. 

So, try dressing up a bit more in your daily life and think about how your clothing choices can affect your day. See how clothes can affect your productivity, ability to pay attention in class, and mood. Not only can it help improve levels of self-esteem and cognitive ability, it also is a great excuse to experiment with fashion beyond pajama chic.

Illustration by Bella Peters

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