Dear Queer White People,
Why do I dress the way that I dress? This is a question that has resurfaced after a conversation with my best friend’s little sisters and my own little brother. My best friend’s little sisters had commented on the fact that I looked put together just to walk down the street to go to their house. My little brother had noted that every day at our school was like a fashion show, every person outdressing the other. He said it was strange to him because he was so used to people showing up in sweats and pajama pants to class, and that his friends at other schools were doing just that. It reminded me of my freshman year and how I was taken aback by older students telling us to make sure we dressed business casual for class. How teachers would actually tell upperclassmen students to leave if they’re not dressed for Professional Tuesdays. How when I went to the mall with my teammates, it was a whole production and they took their time getting ready. I had assumed that my aggressively tomboyish self just cared less about my appearance, and more about the comfort and mobility.
I finally asked my captain about it after we arrived at another school for a match, seeing those students walking around in oversized sweatshirts and pajama pants for class. She asked me, “if you were a hiring manager at a company and you came to our school, would you rather hire the ones who dress well and look professional, or the ones who look like they came out of a rap video?” But even then, I only understood it when it came to the classroom. School was our current job, it started to make a little sense that we had to dress for it. But I was still lost and I had to ask “why does it matter when we go to the mall?” And she gave me almost the same answer. “If you were a store manager and you saw a group of Black people walk into your store, would you rather see the ones who are well dressed come in, or the ones who look like they came out of a rap video?”
It made me realize two things: we are all constantly marginalized by the things we do, the things we say, and the things we wear. It also made me realize just how unaware of my surroundings I had been my whole life. While I wasn’t naive, I had heard of people getting followed around the store for whatever reason, I had just always been blind when it came to me. After that, everything changed. I was aware of the sales associate over my shoulder when I looked at jewelry or shoes or whatever may it be. I also unconsciously started dressing nicer, my go to dress code quickly becoming business casual. I asked one of the assistant deans about the origins of the implied dress code on campus this past semester. She explained that what is implied now was explicitly stated then, for the same reason. I realized then that me and my older siblings, all of which attended HBCUs all, whether subconsciously or not, started dressing better after college. But it does make me wonder, is it just in our heads, or do people outside of our schools actually pay attention to our implied dress code as hard as we do?