The issue of what constitutes proper attire at institutions of higher learning has re-emerged as a talking point following the appearance of a letter in this newspaper. The writer bemoaned the sight of tertiary students, male and female alike, attending lectures and tutorial classes wearing slippers, shorts and T-shirts. While not calling for tertiary students to wear uniforms, the writer suggested the implementation of a dress code. "Shoes instead of slippers, trousers instead of shorts, and shirts with sleeves would be ideal," the letter said. Some students, and even educators, think otherwise, making light of the dressing down, while putting it down to the hot climate and the need for convenience.
The truth is that dress codes, enforced or not, are less important than an instinctive sense of what is minimally appropriate attire. Dress must match occasion. Shorts and slippers would appear to be out of place for the same reason as striped suits and evening gowns, because lectures are not held at hawker centres any more than they are in chandelier-lit ballrooms. Since casual wear and not over-dressing is the issue here, it must be remembered that the classroom is a place of learning whose decorum deserves respect. Those who ignore the dignity of these arenas of learning do not accord their teachers the respect that they deserve. In the process, these students degrade their own status as learners.
It should hardly be necessary for university students to need a sartorial code spelt out in great detail. By the tertiary stage, they should be mature enough to distinguish for themselves between the casual and formal spheres of their lives. True, university provides a break between the uniformed years of schoolhood and the sartorial conservatism of working life. But that is no reason why it should be taken for extremes. Self-policing is better than dress-policing.