Dress Code: Time for a Change?

    In its century of existence, Hawken has never been a school to shy away from the big topics and discussions that arise within its walls. This year’s banner issue? It’s the ever-debated debacle known only as Hawken’s Dress Code, and the discussion is again returning this year in all its glory to Hawken’s community. However, this year may have a differing theme to it than “dress code years’ past.” With Hawken’s message of self-expression in mind, a question burns bright in the minds of the Hawken community… Should Hawken have a dress code at all?

Anyone that has sat in on a Senate meeting in the past handful of weeks knows that the dress code discussion sits at the forefront of current debates and ideas within this collection of students and teachers. Hawken, a college prep school, has historically maintained an attitude of prestige and formality when it comes to the dress code. This is expected of most schools like that, but Hawken isn’t just any old prep school- we live by many of our own unique values here that truly make Hawken the great school that it is. However, these values may ultimately contradict having something like a dress code at their base levels. Hawken bases the entirety of its functions on ten specific principles,[DR1]  which can be found listed in the student handbook and on the school website. Perhaps one of the most important ones reads as such: “We appreciate difference and individuality, and embrace diversity in our community.” This relatively broad eighth principle carries a lot of weight on its shoulders, and whether schools across the country choose to accept it or not, dress code is one of the most powerful vessels of showing the sincerity in adhering to this important and necessary way of running a forward-thinking and all-inclusive community. So, the obvious statement remains; if Hawken truly believes in remaining sincere in standing by this rule, then restricting the students to any kind of dress code should be considered paradoxical and contradictory to the individual-praising policy that is so vital to the Hawken experience. [DR2]

If you treat a dress code this way, it doesn’t mean that students should be able to do things that the general public would deem socially unacceptable (i.e. not wearing any clothes at all, or sporting blatant profanity). If we are to treat this seriously, though, it should certainly scrap something like the ban on all types of denim that we have in effect today, and of course it would trash the infamously arbitrary “Fingertip Rule” that so many of us have come to despise. Even a cursory review of the current dress code reveals that these kinds of arbitrary rules plague the policy from top to bottom. Put quite simply, the best way to alleviate the issues they constantly cause is to put it out of mind entirely and get rid of the dress code once and for all.

There are a plethora of different motivations to scrap the dress code, many of which make complete sense to the mission Hawken wants to accomplish. First and foremost, there is the obvious benefit of increased student self-expression. Without a doubt, increasing the ability for students to be seen how they want to be seen every day goes hand in hand with Hawken’s long time belief in self-expression for everyone, and the most efficient way to do that is to get rid of the dress code that inhibits those beliefs. Even beyond the increased self-expression, without a dress code, students would be actually be able to wear everything in their closets. No more pesky school shopping to buy fifteen of the same pair of polo shirts, tan khakis, or single color dresses that go past your fingertips. Not having a dress code benefits the faculty, too; keeping track a dress code is tough for faculty, and often the way it’s enforced is inconsistent. Inconsistency with enforcing the dress code is something that cannot be avoided- unless there isn’t one to worry about enforcing in the first place. Another argument that we’ve seen come and go is the notion of lighter dress codes being ‘distracting’ to students. But, if Hawken really is all about putting the students first, then why not let the students decide what and what isn’t distracting enough to hurt our ability to function as students. Whether it’s spaghetti straps, short shorts, or something else under the microscope of debate, we should show more confidence in the student body to do what they do- get the job done. It’s simple. Not having a dress code is just easier for everyone, and better for Hawken.

I am not the only one who believes these things about the dress code, either. In a dress code survey administered to the whole student body earlier this year, more than two thirds of those who answered said that the dress code is too restrictive. There is no angle one can look at this stat and still believe that the dress code is best adhering to Hawken’s values or the student’s interests in any way. These types of numbers were expected, but it only goes to show that the majority of the student body isn’t happy with where the dress code is at right now, either. Hawken’s current dress code does nothing but inhibit student self-expression for no reason, a characteristic that goes against Hawken’s ideals as a school and community.[DR3]

As leaders of the community, it’s the Senate’s responsibility to be aware of these issues and act on them. I am a member of the senate, so I will get a chance to be part of the discussion on what will ultimately happen to the dress code that has drawn so much attention over the last few years. Like myself, many other senators are excited to be part of the imminent debates and discussions, too (or excited to get it done once and for all!). The Senate’s faculty chair, Cris Harris, had something to say this regard, stating that, “I can live with almost any kind of dress code, but I would like the code to be much clearer and more thoughtful. Right now, our dress code is our cane. We need to change some of the arbitrary rules and make it clearer for everyone.” Mr. Harris is right. There are too many of those arbitrary rules to consider the dress code appropriate. What better way to alleviate these concerns than having no dress code, in which it is impossible to have any arbitrary rules at all? The Senate is not the only student-inclusive organization this issue applies to, however. The school’s integrity council has helped Hawken retain the characteristics of the great school that it is for as long as it has been around, and the dress code is something that most certainly involves them as well. Sophomore HIC representative Clayton Ferguson shared his insights on this issue, saying that “Comfortability in dress code doesn’t restrict learning to the point where students can’t put their best foot forward.” As a member of the HIC, it’s Clayton’s responsibility to his peers to make sure him and the students follow the school policy to their very best efforts. It’s his job to endeavor in this responsibility to make Hawken a better place, so I certainly trust his opinion on the dress code, and you should too. But I want to take it one step further. For too long, the dress code has been a nuisance and a burden on the backs of the students and faculty; the words of the school leaders above show it. Like the school did when it knocked down the old building in favor of a new one, the school needs to ‘knock down’ the old policy on dress code and embrace the new vision that doesn’t contradict the school policy. That new vision is school without a dress code.

After years in the dark, it’s time for Hawken to see the light. Hawken’s identity as a school has changed and shifted with the times, adapting to the best aspects of today’s society to make the Hawken experience a memorable one. The purpose of Hawken School is to prepare its students for their lives ahead of them to the best of its ability, and the school has consistently done an amazing job at that, but there’s always room to do even better. If Hawken truly means to adhere to its values of self-expression that we hold so dear, then it is time for the dress code to go. Embrace the possibility of a new, freer Hawken. It’s time to drop the old traditions and enter into a new year with a new mindset, a new vision. A Hawken without a dress code.