When Captain Jack Sparrow, the unflappable pirate from the Pirates of the Carribean films, fiendishly urged his underlings to ‘stick to the (pirates) code’, all they said was ‘aye aye captain’. And invariably, audiences in cinema halls burst out laughing.
Unfortunately, when colleges in Chennai reiterate the fact that they have a ‘decent’ dress code in place, you’d scarcely find students taking the code in good humour, or spirits from that matter. Last week, when students of the traditionally-liberal Madras Christian College (MCC) began spreading word that a formal dress code and short hair cuts (for men, obviously) were in the works, the outrage on Facebook from students and alumni alike was overwhelming. Whether or not the 175-year-old college opts to go what is popularly known as the ‘engineering college’ route with dress codes, City Express decided to visit a few colleges with said codes and find whether students had gotten used to them.
Admittedly, Arts and Sciences colleges have it easier — after all their degree-awarding Madras University doesn’t have a rigid dress code in place, unlike their much larger and more sought after counterpart, Anna University. Prasath G, who is pursuing his masters in English at MU, says, “Be it jeans, t-shirts or formal clothing, we have the freedom to choose what to wear. Thankfully, we do not have someone else to decide for us what we should wear and what not.” He adds that he has never had to think about what to wear and what not to, while making it to the varsity on a daily basis.
It may be worthwhile to note that a couple of years ago the varsity was said to have toyed with the idea of implementing a dress code. However, following vehement opposition from students and educationists, the proposal did not raise its head again at the institution. The then vice-chancellor, G Thiruvasagam, had remarked that the wearing of jeans and t-shirts were acceptable to him. “Even professors and some vice-chancellors wear jeans; therefore, students cannot be barred from wearing them.”
Intriguingly enough, popular women’s colleges — MOP Vaishnav College for Women, Women’s Christian College, Stella Maris and Ethiraj — seem to have found uniformity in their ‘dress regulations’: “The code is simple. No tight fitting clothes, shorts or anything that doesn’t reach down to their ankles. We thought of pushing for a ban on t-shirts, but the student body was against it, so we relented,” explains a WCC professor. Students in MOP Vaishnav have to do without tees, though they’re allowed the luxury of denim jeans. And as a standard, all clothes have to have sleeves. So are these young, fashionable women peeved at being denied an opportunity to look and dress their best? “It is a strain. I’ve never worn kurtas and jeans before college, but the good part is that college ends at 1pm and life practically begins only after that,” says Ashrita R, a student and aspiring model studying in MOP Vaishnav College.
Tell engineering college students this, and they’ll scoff at you. “This is the only thing we have ever known,” says Arpit Mathew*, a student of Jeppiar Engineering College. “I came from a school in Kuwait and had never worn formals till then. It was sheer torture in the beginning, but now I’ve learnt to just sweat it out,” adds the final year student. Ever since the AU VC announced the ‘dress code’ across all the varsity’s affiliated colleges on September 1, 2005, students have just gotten used to wearing ‘formal’ attire — tucked in shirts, formal trousers and shoes with (preferably) matching socks.
Though discipline and decency is the primary reason cited for enforcing campus dress codes, these days professors have been using companies that come for campus recruitment as an added excuse, “My HOD told me that I could resist wearing formals, but only those who seemed comfortable with their formal clothes, got placed in top companies. So, I’ve gotten used to them,” sulks Pradhyumn S, an IT major at a college near Tambaram. This is true enough, as several MBA institutes insist on a formal dress code as it is part of their training regimen for ‘corporate work life’. How do students respond? He smirks, “I have asked my HOD to allow us to wear casuals on Fridays and also host parties after every target is achieved (semester exam)!”
(With inputs from Rajagopalan Venkataraman)