and I recently stayed at the New York Athletic Club, which, like many
traditional clubs, has a dress code. Gentlemen must wear jackets to
come in through the front entrance. It used to be that a tie was also
required, but according to a brochure given out to overnight guests,
in keeping with the business casual' policy that is
presently in effect in many companies, the NYAC now has a relaxed
dress code. Business casual is defined as slacks, sports
jacket, and collared shirt for gentlemen. For ladies, it means
a dress, skirt, pants, and blouse, though presumably not
all at the same time.
the current dominance of less traditional business attire in traditional
settings can be traced back to the late 1970s, when leisure and pant
suits were in fashion, at least among non-traditionalists. These suits,
usually made of light colored, artificial fabrics, not only blurred
the distinction between dressing for work and play but also between
how men and women dressed. Leisure suits fell out of fashion, of course,
but the pant suit has become a staple of women's business dress.
Though some women have come to wear ties, either as a fashion or political
statement, even with the most formal of pant suits it remains unusual.
youth, I had wondered why men and boys had to wear ties when women and
girls could enjoy the unfettered feeling of an open collar. In parochial
school, boys had to wear white shirts and ties, while girls could get
away with a simple blouse. I went to an all-boys high school, where
the dress code was a jacket and tie at all times, as it was at my all-male
to graduate school at a large state university, where there was no dress
code, but those of us who were teaching assistants were expected to
wear a jacket and tie whenever we taught a class. Given my background,
this was no big deal, and as I pursued an academic career, I continued
to wear the uniform that distinguished a teacher from a student. When
I joined my present institution in 1980, I felt comfortable in class
and in faculty meetings, where just about everyone was dressed the same
things began to change. Increasingly, new faculty members were not only
tieless but also sometimes collarless. At first, it appeared that it
was mostly faculty in the sciences who eschewed even business casual.
As the 1980s morphed into the 1990s, fewer and fewer younger faculty
members dressed differently on campus than they did on the soccer field.
Furthermore, middle-aged faculty members also began to dress less formally,
and soon it seemed that it was only those nearing retirement and administrators
who wore jackets and ties to the faculty club. The increasing number
of women on the faculty created some sense of balance, in gender and
in dress, for they generally tended to maintain the sense of decorum
that the men were losing.
men continued to dominate most faculties, and so receptions seemed to
become less formal affairs, and invitations to previously formal dinners
came with the notation black-tie optional. This is not to
say that only male faculty members have relaxed their dress code. Some
alumni returning to campus for weekend reunions seemed to come in the
same clothes that they wear to work on casual Fridays. And
students, of course, began to come to class dressed for the beach.
members stood firm, continuing to wear business dress to class, but
they could only dream of imposing a dress code on students. Business
clothes continue to be expected for design project presentations, and
students continue to don business dress for interviews, but are conspicuous
around campus when they do. But those rare occasions on which students
do dress for business serve as a reminder that they appreciate that
dressing up signals a seriousness and, well, a getting down to business.
not think much about dress codes during my recent year-long sabbatical.
I worked in my study at home in shorts and a sweatshirt, but when I
traveled to lecture, I wore the usual tie and jacket, if not a business
suit. Returning to campus after the long hiatus, I found so few ties
in the halls and around the conference table that I began to leave mine
at home or on the hook behind my office door. At first I felt self-conscious,
but soon I welcomed the unfettered feeling. No one mentioned the absence
of my tie, and no one blocked my entrance through the front door. As
the New York Athletic Club has, and in keeping with the campus
casual policy that is presently in effect at so many institutions
of higher learning, I have adopted the dress code of the new millennium.