Do Colleges Have a Dress Code? Many Don’t But A Good Amount Do

Although dress codes are common among schools from elementary up to high school, do colleges have dress codes too?

Do Colleges Have a Dress Code? Many Don’t But A Good Amount Do
Matt Benson

The topic of dress codes in educational institutions often raises questions about personal expression, professionalism, and the balance between freedom and regulation. While dress codes are commonly associated with primary and secondary schools, the question arises: do colleges have dress codes? In this BrokeScholar article, we’re going to provide a guide to the concept of dress codes in colleges and universities, examining the policies, factors influencing them, and the general expectations regarding campus attire. 

Read on to find out do colleges have dress codes and some notable examples of ones that do.

Table of Contents

The Perception of College Dress Codes

Contrary to the more rigid dress codes in primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities are generally known for their relaxed and casual atmosphere. This perception often leads to the assumption that colleges do not have dress codes. The reality is more nuanced, however, as various factors influence dress codes at the collegiate level.

Dress Code Policies in Colleges

While not all colleges and universities have explicit dress code policies, some institutions may have guidelines or expectations regarding student attire. This is especially true at some of the, socio-politically, most conservative colleges in the US. These policies can vary widely, ranging from minimal requirements to more specific regulations.

  • Minimal Guidelines: Many colleges have minimal or informal dress code guidelines, encouraging students to dress in a manner that is respectful, appropriate, and conducive to the learning environment. These guidelines often prioritize individual expression and personal comfort while promoting a sense of professionalism and respect for others.

  • Professional Programs: Certain professional programs such as business, law, or healthcare may impose more stringent dress code policies to prepare students for their future careers. These programs often require students to adhere to specific dress standards, such as business attire or lab coats, say, if you’re a chemistry major, to foster a professional image and simulate real-world expectations.

Factors Influencing Dress Code Policies

Several factors contribute to the presence or absence of dress codes in colleges and universities. Understanding these factors helps shed light on the rationale behind institutional dress code policies.

  • Institutional Culture: The culture and values of an institution play a significant role in shaping dress code policies. Some institutions prioritize individual expression and diversity, while others emphasize professionalism or a sense of tradition. These cultural aspects influence the perception of appropriate attire on campus.

  • Historical Background: The history and traditions of an institution can also influence its dress code policies. Older and more traditional colleges may have longstanding expectations regarding attire, while newer institutions might adopt more contemporary or flexible approaches.

  • Professional Preparation: As mentioned earlier, colleges offering professional programs often implement dress codes to align with industry standards and prepare students for their future careers. These programs recognize the importance of professional appearance and behavior in specific fields.

Student Expression and Freedom

Colleges and universities generally value the individuality and freedom of expression of their students. Many institutions promote an inclusive and diverse campus environment that respects students' choices in terms of personal style and attire. The absence of strict dress codes allows students to express themselves creatively through their clothing while fostering a sense of autonomy.

Dress Code vs. Dress Expectations

It is crucial to differentiate between formal dress codes and general expectations of attire. While some institutions may not have specific dress code policies, they may still have general expectations regarding appropriate attire. These expectations often revolve around decency, respect, and professionalism, aiming to maintain a positive and conducive learning environment. 

Colleges With Dress Codes

While dress codes in colleges and universities are generally less strict than in primary and secondary schools, some institutions in the United States have specific guidelines or policies regarding student attire. It's important to realize that dress code policies can vary widely among colleges, and the examples provided below may not represent the current policies. It is always recommended to check with the specific institution for the most up-to-date information. Here are a few examples of US colleges that have had dress codes in the past or may currently have them:

Morehouse College

Morehouse College, a historically black men's college (HBCU), and one of the best HBCU colleges in Georgia, has gained attention for its dress code policy known as the "Morehouse Man Attire." In the past, the dress code required students to wear suits or blazers, dress shirts, and ties to classes, formal events, and other occasions. The policy aimed to promote professionalism, self-presentation, and a sense of pride among students.

Spelman College

Spelman College, an all-women's historically black college affiliated with Morehouse College, and also one of the best HBCU colleges around, has had a dress code policy as well. The policy encouraged students to dress in a manner that reflects the college's values and upheld certain standards of appearance and decorum.

Brigham Young University

Brigham Young University (BYU), a private university affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), and one of America’s largest colleges, has a dress and grooming code known as the "Honor Code." The code applies to all students and includes guidelines on modesty, hairstyles, facial hair, and appropriate attire for various settings, including academic environments and campus activities.

Pepperdine University

Pepperdine University, a Christian institution, has a dress code policy that emphasizes modesty and appropriateness in attire. The policy encourages students to dress in a manner that reflects the university's values and promotes a respectful and professional environment.

The Citadel

The Citadel, a military college, has a strict dress code for its cadets. The dress code includes specific regulations for uniforms, grooming standards, and appropriate civilian attire for different occasions. On another note, the Citadel has one of the best student teacher ratios of all public colleges in the US, making for a closer one-on-one experience between student and instructor.

Virginia Military Institute

Virginia Military Institute (VMI), another military college, has a comprehensive dress code for its cadets. The code specifies the uniforms to be worn on different days, as well as grooming standards and guidelines for personal appearance.

Like so many other things in the human experience, dress code policies can evolve over time. Therefore, it is always advisable to consult the official websites or contact the respective colleges directly to obtain the most accurate and current information regarding their dress code policies.

The Bottom Line on Do Colleges Have a Dress Code

The presence or absence of dress codes in colleges and universities varies depending on the institution, program, and cultural factors. While some colleges have explicit dress code policies, many promote an atmosphere of personal expression and autonomy. That said, it is important for students to remember their individual responsibility in choosing attire that is respectful, appropriate, and considerate of the campus environment.

In the end, regardless of the presence or absence of formal dress codes, colleges encourage students to make choices that reflect their personal style while upholding a sense of professionalism and respect for others. It is essential for students to navigate the expectations of their respective institutions and maintain a balance between self-expression and adherence to the campus culture and values.

Andrew DePietro

Author: Andrew DePietro

Senior Researcher, and Content Strategist

Andrew DePietro is a finance writer covering topics such as entrepreneurship, investing, real estate and college for BrokeScholar, Forbes, CreditKarma, and more.