Dress Code

I must admit to complete ignorance of fashion (no doubt you already know this if we’ve ever met in person). When I last paid attention, “rugby pants” were all the rage. I’m still trying to figure out what culottes are. And spaghetti straps?

Here are the rules at Oliver’s school for what students and staff are not allowed to wear:

  • Straps must be at least two fingers wide. No spaghetti straps.
  • Full length shirts — no low cuts and no belly shirts.
  • Shirts must not have sexual comments or inappropriate logos or graphics (ie. alcohol).
  • Shorts and skirts need to be at least finger-tip length, when arms are beside the body.

I’m fascinated by lists like this because they seem so arbitrary. And so rooted in the 19th century conception of what’s proper.

It’s not that I’m necessarily opposed to the notion of regulating dress (although the more anarchistic parts of my brain are strongly so, I must admit). It’s just that if you’re going to regulate dress, why not do it with some moxie. Here’s what the rules at Pete’s Academy would be:

  • No corporate logos on anything. At all.
  • On Wednesday everybody has to wear a tie.
  • No velcro shoes allowed.
  • Dress shirts, if worn, must have button-down collars and be at least 90% cotton.
  • Socks must be worn at all times, and must be lime green, purple, yellow or fuchsia in colour.
  • If worn, t-shirts must be printed with slogans that express a strong point of view. About something.
  • Yellow rain coats only; no green, no blue.

Back in the mid-1980s when I found myself bored with public school I flirted with the notion of going to Hillfield Strathallan College in Hamilton. While there were plenty of reasons to not do this – I flunked the “religious knowledge” part of the entrance exam, for example; and then there was the whole “cultural snobbery” thing – what pushed me over the edge was the school uniform. The day I attended the school open house happened to be the day of the switch from winter uniforms to spring uniforms, and the reaction of the students to this news – elation would not be too strong a word – told me all I needed to know.

Here’s the dress code at Hillfield Strathallan these days:

Proper school dress is a requirement for attendance and to encourage students to be known and recognized for who they are. It is the responsibility of the students and parents to know what the dress code rules are and to abide by them. If there are parental concerns regarding the suitability of an article of clothing, it is best to inquire of the Principal before the article is purchased and worn, to eliminate unnecessary expense, and to allow replacement of the article, if necessary.

The College standard of acceptable dress is defined
as follows:

all clothing must conform to College regulations
it must be clean and in good repair
it must be worn properly as outlined by the Principal

Students wearing temporary improper variations of the uniform must have an explanatory note from a parent and the approval of the Principal before attending class. Dress infractions are dealt with by each school under the supervision of the Principal.

School uniforms are required for all students during school hours, for special College occasions and by team members representing the school. Sweaters (Mondays) and blazers (Fridays) must be worn at Chapel except during the ‘summer dress’ seasons in early fall and late spring.

They are to be worn at lunch unless announced otherwise. Uniforms are not required for spectators at games in the evenings or on weekends. The beginning/end of winter dress times will be announced to the students.

Only new College and House ties are acceptable and student blazers, sweaters, polo shirts and golf shirts must feature the new HSC crest (shield and mottos).

Please note that ‘heely’ running shoes are not permitted on the HSC Campus.


A general principle with respect to hair style, jewelry and uniform is that their appearance should be subtle and not extend to the point that attention is drawn towards the student’s physical presence. Girls’ hair styles must be tidy and of an acceptable style and length. Boys’ hair styles must be tidy and an acceptable length at or above the collar. Boys of an appropriate age must be cleanly shaven with the exception of Grade 12 boys who may, as a privilege, have neatly kept facial hair. Students will not be allowed on campus with hair styles out of keeping with College policy. Visible neck jewelry and elaborate, multiple bracelets are not permitted, nor are earrings for boys. Girls are limited to two small earrings per ear. Nose rings are not permitted

The dress code goes on from there over several pages to lay out the various uniform requirements of different grades for boys and for girls.

When you read dress codes like this, the Prince Street “stay away from the beer logos” appears positively progressive by compare.

For the record, as I type this I am wearing black jeans by Ralph Lauren, a button-down patterned Eddie Bauer long-sleeved shirt, black socks (by Joe Fresh) and a pair of black leather shoes, well-worn.


Robert Paterson's picture
Robert Paterson on September 8, 2010 - 14:59 Permalink

At my prep school (8-13) the big uniform issue was shorts. If you were below 5 feet tall you had top wear shorts ALL YEAR LONG.

At my High School on Sunday we had to wear Tails. But if you were under 5 6 you had to wear what was called a Bum Freezer — a short jacket that exposed your bum and a huge Eton Collar.

How tall you were seemed to be a constant in uniforms then

Ann Thurlow's picture
Ann Thurlow on September 8, 2010 - 16:31 Permalink

Someone at your house is going to be a little cross about the velcro shoes rule.

Island Redhead's picture
Island Redhead on September 9, 2010 - 00:53 Permalink

Ah! Dress codes. As a rule, I don’t have much of a problem with them at this age: walk down the street and look at the length of some of the skirts/shorts some 14 year olds are wearing and I rest my case. What bothers me is how easily it is for them to be enforced rather arbitrarly. I actually had a daughter sent home in the spring because the pair of shorts she had on “rode up” past finger tip length when she sat down. The sad part was that she’d already been wearing them to school for four weeks and they were fine prior to that day.

Don’t know Rob Paterson but my sympathies go out to him….if you took a late growth spurt- like my husband-you could be in shorts until well until junior high school.

I, like Peter, really think that if you’re going to have a dress code, make it a worthwhile one. If you’re going to wear a graphic t-shirt, show your cause, not the latest “in” logo.

Oliver's picture
Oliver on September 10, 2010 - 01:51 Permalink

I’m sure the elation about the switch to spring clothing came mostly from the discomfort and incapacitation that the official clothes were causing them, up to the day of the announcement, not just on the historically average days—which are considerably warmer in late winter than in early winter—but especially on the frequent and downright warm “spring” days that are bound to occur, irregularly, as the day approaches, since seasons don’t change smoothly or all-at-once most places. The unfortunate people of Bhutan obey the same custom, I heard, and you can bet the temperature swings quite a bit between winter and spring in the Himalayas. The King says when you switch to cotton.

Oliver's picture
Oliver on September 10, 2010 - 01:57 Permalink

Also: Button-down collars, Peter? I thought you prized simplicity and functionality? It’s not as if button-downs are more formal than standard dress shirt collars either. They’re just a fashion that comes and goes, and a relatively casual one at that.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on September 10, 2010 - 12:52 Permalink

I disagree. Without buttons to keep the collar attached, the ends of collars quickly go out of alignment and fly all over the place. Especially if, like me, you don’t iron your shirts. Button-downesness is a vitally important facet of shirt design.

Rob's picture
Rob on September 10, 2010 - 13:54 Permalink

Collar stays take care of that problem, Peter. Besides, “button-down” is synonymous with conservative and conventional… not in keeping with your iconoclasm. You should be questioning what purpose a collar serves at all!

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on September 10, 2010 - 15:43 Permalink

Hmmm, collar stays. My plebeian upbringing did not expose me to such advances in shirt design. I’ll have to look into this.

In any case, button-down is now tipped, irony wise, to be iconoclastic.