A lot of attention is paid to how people dress at Yale. While most of us realize that people have different styles and standards of dress, there’s still a vocal group claiming that wearing sweatpants and T-shirts disrespects our institution and that we ought to be dressing up for just about everything.
But why? We all know we go to Yale, and what does that do? It makes us pompous, self-righteous and elitist, and those of us who escape that fate have to watch while the rest continually embarrass our name by confirming every stereotype that, by God, we just wish weren’t true. And we want to remind ourselves again of our own importance by waltzing around in clothes we picked so that everyone would notice exactly how professional we are?
Surely the opposite is true. Wouldn’t it help to deflate the air of pretentiousness on campus if no one dressed up? What Yale needs is a ban on all attire fancier than a sports coat. Such a ban would make Yalies more modest and Yale a more amiable place.
I would except from this ban large, Yale-hosted events — for instance, the welcome speech to freshmen or events during senior week — because these are times when we want specifically to come together and feel important or accomplished. I would except all women from this ban, in part because I think men have stronger negative reactions to fancy clothes, but mostly because, as a male, I feel unqualified to speak for women on this issue. These two cases aside, I think a ban on dressing up would, on the whole, positively influence Yale culture.
Let’s look first the Yale Political Union. It is no secret that the YPU drives away Yalies who find the members imperious. I know a number of members of the YPU and consider them among my most charming and affable friends. Yet when they put on their suits and step up to any podium, I cannot deny that their manner becomes a little (or a lot) less palatable.
Now, I understand that part of giving a speech of this sort is orating with confidence; however, I am forced to wonder how much of this confidence derives from an assurance in their words and how much comes from the fact that they just look so polished. And yes, I will be the first to admit that men look great in suits. The problem is that men know that we look great in suits, and from this knowledge springs forth a complex of superiority over the unkempt.
That is why I would be more impressed by a YPU speaker who could maintain his confidence while speaking in sweatpants. To keep one’s poise while looking like a slob would demonstrate confidence indeed. Though I’ve never been to any debates with the Yale Debate Association, I imagine they are in the same boat, along with Model UN and anyone else who likes to engage in serious arguing. They should all start wearing tattered shirts and sweatpants while they speak, instead of using fancy clothes as a crutch to bolster their machismo.
Or consider Yale’s a cappella groups. Why do they wear suits and tuxedos? Are they funny costumes? No. Are they relevant or conducive to singing? Nope. Think of what they sacrifice by adopting fancy clothes as their uniforms. They come across as stuffier than I think they would like, since a cappella is about looseness and energy and not at all about looking like some British magistrate taking tea at his club or a slave laborer of Wall Street.
I have only singled out a cappella groups and the YPU because they are the most noticeable and organized offenders of overdressing. If groups and individuals alike took a conscious effort to underdress, it would go a long way towards increasing modesty on campus. In the meantime, before the ban is realized, ask yourself before you dress up, am I really as great as I feel right now? Great-looking, maybe. Intelligent and infallible, probably not.
Matt Antoszyk is a sophomore in Calhoun College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.