Debating choice vs. control

Dress codes A question of choice or discipline?

Dress codes A question of choice or discipline?   | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

Dress codes have always been a topic of discussion. What do students and faculty really think about it?

If there’s one word that is juxtaposed with the word “rules”, it is the word “Broken”. The temptation and resistance not to to not follow rules is far more than the pressure to adhere and conform. Colleges too know this and have tried and tested various codes for clothes for students. Every year there are a few more added, modified and yet hardly any deleted. Most colleges feel that students sporting hip clothes and styles will set bad examples for students, and this is the main reason for imposing dress codes.

But is this the real reason for imposing a stringent rule or do authorities feel the need to control is greater?

Strict rules

Most colleges in India adhere to these rules, barring a few. Many colleges have a code and students are expected to follow them come what may. Jadhavpur University (Kolkata), Tata Institite of Social Sciences (Mumbai), Institute of Home Economics, Delhi University, National Law School, Tiruchirapalli, are some exceptions to this trend.

But why are dress codes imposed in the first place? Niranjana Pandian, a II-year Law student at School of Excellence in Law, Chennai, feels that having a dress code provides for uniformity and provides a specific identity to law students. Girls are expected to wear a white kurti with white patiala pants and a black waist coat while boys are expected to wear a white formal shirt with black formal pants and a black tie. “In case we don’t follow, we are not allowed to enter the class,” she adds, still in favour of the rules.

Jahnhavi Shah, I B.A., St. Xaviers College Mumbai, has a different viewpoint. “My college does have a pretty strict dress code. Largely, it discourages pants above the ankle, sleeveless and cropped tops, and ripped jeans. I am studying humanities in a college which promotes individuality and encourages you to express yourself. But I find implementation of some of these rules really ironic. Also, I really think that the faculty has enough to do without running around enforcing dress codes. Lastly, the clothes you wear are a huge part of who you are and it helps in building your self-identity and I don’t think that should be taken away from anyone at an age where you’re just beginning to gauge who you really are,” she rues.

“Dress codes are there just to instil discipline among students, nothing more,” feels M. Shantanu, a II-year engineering student of Chennai-based Rajalakshmi Englineering College. “And there is something called ‘Student (S)Care’ who are on patrol inside the campus, waiting to snatch ID cards and mobile phones of the students not following proper order.”

Bengaluru Siblings, Trishath P Gowda, a I-year BBA student at Vijaya college, and Sparsha Gowda, a II-year student at Institute of Legal Studies, are aware of such scare tactics, commonly employed by many colleges. “When we don’t follow the dress code, we have to answer to our respective class teachers, or the worst case scenario is we are sent back home. And you don’t want to be subject to any questioning especially back at home. Sometimes they are understanding but at other times, they may not be on our side!”

Students may find it difficult to adhere to dress codes, especially if rules are extremely limiting. One of the metropolitan engineering colleges lists out its dress code as follows: All the boys are expected to wear self-coloured pants with their shirts neatly tucked in. They should wear shoes only (Sports shoes and slippers are not permitted). Girls should wear salwar kameez with V-shaped dupatta pinned on both sides of the shoulder.

While expecting students to dress appropriately can seem reasonable, taking a stand on even how a dupatta should be worn seems extreme.

Koteshwar Rao, Director of Academics, Veltech University, Chennai, defends such strict dress codes on the ground that it helps students adapt to a professional environment later. “At Vel Tech, we refer to our wards as Student Engineers. The dress codes make them look and feel like they are industry-ready. This also extends to values like punctuality and classroom behaviour. Wearing formals will also help the faculty take the students seriously,” he explains.

Freedom of choice

However, some professors have a contrasting point of view. “I feel dress codes should not be enforced on students. At 18, students have the sense to know how to dress themselves and can do so without any nudging,” says Kanika Ahuja, Professor, Lady Shriram College, New Delhi. “At our college, we do not have any codes, which I think works to the advantage of the students as they are more causal and not distracted by appearances.”

Professor A.F. Mathew from IIM-Kozhikode feels that using the word “Codes” in this day and age itself is wrong. “Who are we to regulate what students should wear and not? We are here in our capacities to educate them and make them responsible adults. We should not regulate their personal lives. This attitude is regressive. More control and insecurity shows a lack of confidence in democracy, and that’s not healthy at all.”

Democracy gives individuals above the age of 18 the power to vote. They are thought to be leaders of tomorrow and are given a free hand to decide who they would want to see as their leaders and in power eventually.

Then how fair is it for educational institutes to curb and control their power to exercise their choice when it comes to what they wear?

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Printable version | May 28, 2020 10:08:29 PM |

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