“My son has his first in person class at the community college tomorrow… Should he avoid anything? We’ve never spent anytime in a public school setting.”
While most community colleges don’t have the same kinds of strict dress code policies that you’d experience at a public high school might, this is a great question! There are many times when a uniform or special clothing is required, and there are also a lot of opportunities for freedom of expression. Keep in mind that private colleges, especially religious colleges, may have modesty guidelines for students (dual enrollment or otherwise).
One thing you can be sure of, if it is required, it will be written down! In other words, you don’t have to make assumptions about what your teen can / can’t wear. Since you may not yet have received instructions, this list will give you a good idea of what to expect.
Welding, Automotive, Engine, Construction. If your teen is attending a course in a “shop” classroom there will be significant requirements enforced for safety reasons. Expect to receive detailed instructions from your instructor. Common clothing requirements include: coveralls, workboots/shoes, gloves, long or short-sleeved button-down shirt, durable ripstop pants, safety glasses, ear protection, and head protection. Welder’s will require flame resistant clothing.
Science. If your teen is attending a course in a “science lab” classroom (biology lab, chemistry lab, physics lab, etc.) there will be requirements about wearing long sleeves, hair restraints, or a lab coat and eye protection. Closed-toes shoes are recommended.
Rita Algorri of Scientista Foundation, a network of pre-professional women in STEM, writes this about lab attire:
“DO wear something that covers most of your skin and that you feel comfortable wearing. Keep your sleeves and jewelry minimal and contained and long hair tied back. While you’re working, wear a lab coat and don’t wear it out of the lab, it’s gross.
DO NOT wear anything that’s going to put you in danger while you’re working in lab, i.e. that frilly silk mini dress with the side cut outs is extra flammable and can potentially expose your skin to a sundry of un-pleasantries such as chemicals, sharp things, mouse bites, microbes, etc. Seemingly-innocuous yoga pants, leggings, and tights are too thin to protect you from hazards and should also be avoided.“
Culinary. If your teen is attending a course in a “kitchen” classroom (culinary, baking, pastry, etc.) there will be requirements that will be enforced for safety and sanitation reasons. Expect to receive detailed instructions about the type of coat, pants, shoes, apron, hair covering, and head covering. Health and sanitation codes forbid wearing jewelry or artificial nails while handling foods that will be consumed by the public.
Health Occupations. If your teen is attending a course that puts them in contact with patients (nursing, radiology, dental, optometry, physical therapy, etc.) there will be a dress code. Your school may require wearing scrubs, healthcare shoes, or an official uniform. Expect to have rules that dictate acceptable jewelry, cologne, hair styles, or even tattoos.
General classroom. Attending “everyday” classroom lectures may require any special dress code. Be sure to search your college’s official website and catalog for references to “dress code” to be sure. I found a number of colleges, even community colleges, with dress codes!
Best Practices in Absence of a Dress Code
- Shirts and shoes should always be worn on campus.
- Avoid clothing that may have vulgar or lewd graphics.
- Avoid clothing that incites racial or ethnic prejudice.
- Be mindful of religious or political messages.
- Hats should not be worn indoors.
- Avoid clothing that indicates gang affiliation.
- Avoid clothing with pro-drug or alcohol messages.
- High heels can pose a challenge on large campuses.
Common “Modesty” Expectations (Religious Colleges)
- No visible undergarments.
- Avoid yoga, stretchy, spandex, or similar tight-fitting, body-clinging pants.
- Avoid skirts shorter than mid-thigh;
- Avoid cropped shirts not covering the midriff; tank tops, spaghetti straps or halter style shirts and dresses.
- Hair color is of natural tones.
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