College Dress Codes: What to Wear to Class in the U.S.

College Dress Codes: What to Wear to Class in the U.S.

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Most colleges embrace diversity and accept people from different cultures, ethnicity, income levels, and age. Depending on your personal background, figuring out what to wear on your first day of college can be quite a challenge. So, do colleges have dress codes?

Colleges don’t have a full dress code unless they’re private colleges and require uniforms for students. However, most colleges impose restrictions on what can be worn in the classroom to prevent distractions.

Let’s dive a little deeper into dress codes for college and help you figure out what to wear to be comfortable and make the right first impression. 

What Is The Typical College Dress Code?

Most colleges apply a typical dress code policy with basic requirements like shoes, shirts, and clothes with no profanity. Beyond those basic requirements, many colleges allow their students the freedom to wear what they please.

The college dress code can vary from college to college. The first step to figuring out the dress code requirements of your college is to look in the student handbook. This will give you an idea of what to expect when getting ready for classes. The typical dress code for public schools mentions that:

  • Head coverings and hoods such as do-rags, stocking caps, skullcaps, baseball caps, and bandanas are prohibited. This policy item does usually not apply to headgear considered as a part of religious or cultural dress.
  • Students are not allowed to walk bare feet.
  • Clothing with derogatory or offensive messages either in words or pictures is prohibited.
  • Underwears should not be visible at all times. Some schools might also specify rules about cleavage and dress length.

Typically, you can expect the same dress code you abide by in public places. You may be surprised to see how many college students dress down during classes. Things like athletic wear and even pajamas can be common on any college campus. Some students prefer to dress up in business attire. But most students wear jeans and a t-shirt. 

Dress Code for Specific Events

Teachers can also set class-specific requirements for specific events being held in class. For example, a presentation or speech in front of the class may require that you wear formal attire, business attire, or interview attire. This is often left up to each student, but professors have previously given specific instructions in the assignment for how students should dress. 

Other than specific events such as galas, colleges are usually very relaxed about what their students wear. College professors have the right to remove you from their class if you’re being rude, loud, or distracting to other classmates. Sometimes the reason may have to do with the attire.

Consequences for Students Who Violate the Dress Code

Wearing something inappropriate for class can get you removed from the classroom, but college professors tend to have a pretty high tolerance level for these things. So, don’t show up in a costume that’ll make the whole class stare at you for an hour instead of paying attention and avoid purposely offensive material.

If you avoid those things, most professors will allow you to wear whatever you please during their class. If they have an issue with what you’re wearing, they may not even kick you out. Some professors choose to wait until class is over to discuss it with you in person or even via email. So, professors will rarely call you out for what you’re wearing. 

So, avoid offensive words and leave that mascot costume back in your dorm, and you should be fine. Make sure to check with your professor before presentations or speeches as they may have expectations of how you dress while standing in front of the class. Otherwise, you can wear whatever you feel most comfortable in. 

When Is It Important To Dress Professionally in College?

It’s important to dress professionally in college whenever you’re trying to make a good impression. Whether that is with your professors or colleagues, looking professional is important when passing oral exams, or attending special events.

Despite the relaxed dress codes of public colleges, there are still times when it’s important to dress professionally during your college experience. One example of how it can benefit you is when selecting colleagues for a group project. First impressions really matter, and when you dress professionally, people tend to take you more seriously. 

Another reason to dress nicely for college classes is to impress your professor if they’re looking for an intern or considering students for special projects. Dressing professionally can also help you be taken more seriously by those professors who equate effort and attitude to clothes. So, a professional outfit may be just what you need to win over those more stubborn, traditional professors. 

Another reason you’ll want to dress more professionally during college is when presenting in front of the class. This shows that you take whatever you’re presenting seriously and come prepared. This can affect your grade and your overall attitude when presenting. Like we discussed above, your attire can affect your mood. So, set the right tone. 

What Should I Wear to My College Classes?

Wear whatever makes you feel comfortable, like jeans, athletic wear, sweatpants, or a more formal option. Whatever you choose, it’s important to know that it reflects you. 

Like we talked about above, college professors don’t really care much about what students wear as long as they aren’t distracting other students. So, you won’t get kicked out of class for showing up in your coffee pajamas and bunny slippers, but is it a good idea?

Don’t Be Afraid to Wear a Dressy Attire

Don’t be afraid to look your best when attending classes. While you’ll see plenty of students in pajamas and sweatpants, that shouldn’t stop you from wearing something nice. If you want to make a good impression and feel good while doing it, then try to dress neatly. Dress shirts, dress pants, and dress shoes are never a fashion faux pas!

Should I Wear Pajamas in College?

Some psychologists suggest it isn’t the best idea. Wearing pajamas may make you less productive and more tired during the day. This is because we tend to associate our pajamas with relaxation and sleep. This means that wearing pajamas to your classes could cause you to have difficulty paying attention and staying awake. 

So, it may be best to ditch the pajamas if you want to get the most out of your classes. Wearing pajamas may also mess with your self-esteem. Some people have admitted to carrying themselves differently based on the clothes they were wearing and equating their clothes to their attitude.

Why Do Colleges Have Such Informal Dress Codes?

Colleges tend to have informal dress codes because students are now adults who can make their own choices. Students are paying to be there. Colleges understand that dress codes can discriminate against lower-income students. 

Most of the time, colleges don’t bother with a dress code unless it becomes inappropriate, like nudity or a distraction like a costume. At the end of the day, most college students can wear what they want. This is in direct contrast with the high school experience, as students are often told exactly what they can and can’t wear. So, what’s the difference?

Another reason why colleges tend to have very informal dress codes is that the students are paying to be there. Gone are the days of free and mandatory high school education. It’s expected that paying college students who are now adults will take themselves more seriously during this time.

Uniforms Are Too Expensive for Most Students

Now, let’s talk about college uniforms and their impact on the college experience. Sure, many private colleges have uniforms that their students must purchase and wear, but what would the impact of implementing this in public colleges look like? 

The classic trope of the broke college student has been around for a while now, and it’s still relevant for a reason. In fact, 42 percent of independent college students live at or below the poverty line. So, having a strict dress code that involves a specific style, uniform, or pattern may not be achievable for many students.

Colleges are aware of this percentage and understand that some college students struggle to afford to feed themselves properly. So, having a strict dress code would alienate those students who may be struggling financially. This is a huge factor in considering whether or not to implement a strict dress code at the college level. 

Do College Professors Care What You Wear?

For the most part, college professors don’t care what students wear to their class as long as it’s not a distraction. Some professors can be more strict than others when it comes to attire. 

There’s a very small chance you’ll be asked to leave a college classroom for what you’re wearing unless you forgot a shirt or your shoes or you’re causing a distraction that interrupts the class. Other than kicking you out, your professor may speak with you privately about your choice of attire, or they may just silently judge you. 

College professors tend to put in an average of 54.4 hours per week of work. Not all of this time is teaching, but it is indicative of how busy their schedule can be. So, how students are dressed usually falls pretty low on the priority chain when you consider how much work professors are putting into their job.

There are always going to be people in any profession that believe how you dress is a direct reflection of how you feel. So, some professors may believe that your sweatpants are indicative of a lazy, careless attitude. Like we discussed above, some psychologists suggest that your clothes can affect your attitude, but that’s not always true. 

Final Thoughts

Colleges don’t have dress codes like high schools do. Though you may be asked to leave class if you’re not wearing a shirt, shoes or your outfit is distracting. Your attire should not make anyone feel uncomfortable in a classroom setting.

Whether you are in the classroom, student center, or university offices students are expected to wear modest, casual, or dressy attire. For oral exams and interviews, students are usually expected to dress up.

Remember, it’s important to be comfortable while attending classes. Still, some studies show wearing pajamas all day may not be beneficial when it comes to concentration and overall attitude.