Styles Change, the Nobles Dress Code Remains

Clare Struzziery, Staff Writer

October 20, 2023

At the end of every summer, Nobles students can count on the administration making changes to the dress code – for better or for worse. Scrutinizing students anticipate changes to the logo rule or the Great Jogger Controversy. Over the past year, changes to the dress code have sparked passionate debates among members of the community. This is not the first time there has been conflict surrounding these rules. In fact, ever since Nobles became co-ed in 1974, the dress code has been an ever-evolving, often controversial set of parameters that has reflected both the administration’s values and societal norms for the time period. 

During the first century of the school’s existence, boys wore dress pants, a jacket, and a tie. When girls were admitted in 1974, they were permitted to wear sweaters, dresses, and skirts with blouses. Sneakers were prohibited for both genders. The 1974-1975 edition of the Nobles Guide says, “The school considers it important that each student appear neat and clean at all times.” 

In the mid-1980s, the “Thanksgiving Rule” was implemented. This allowed female students to wear “dress pants” during the colder months of the year, from Thanksgiving to March break. “Dungarees,” “painter overalls,” and “jean-cut corduroys” were all strictly prohibited. Eventually, in 1992, this rule was abolished, and female students were allowed to wear pants all year long. History faculty Melissa Lyons (N ‘97) remembers this change as momentous, saying: “As a student, that was huge…just because I was cold.” 

(Photo Credit: Nobles Archives)

Male students also experienced a drastic change in 1992 when Head of School Richard Baker made jackets no longer mandatory. 1992 marked the first time in Nobles’ 126 year history without this requirement. Though students celebrated the change, some would say that the former policy had some practical advantages. Classics Faculty Mark Harrington said, “All the [male students and teachers] had pockets full of little stubs and chalk because we had chalkboards back then.” 

The fashion trends of the 1990s and 2000s also gave rise to eccentric rules governing the clothing of female students. The “lasagna strap rule” dictated that “if you were a [female student] and you had something that had a strap, it had to be the width of lasagna,” Harrington said.  “Couldn’t be spaghetti.” Another new rule was implemented to regulate skirt length. The 2011-2012 edition of the Nobles Guide said, “skirts cannot be shorter than 6” above the knees,” ” the length of a US dollar bill.

In 2002, the tie requirement for male students was dropped. With this amendment, the final remnant of the original Nobles dress code that stood for over one hundred years disappeared. This particular change marked the beginning of a new era, both within and outside of school walls. Of course, there are exceptions. Harrington still wears a tie every day. “I could come not wearing a necktie, but…I feel more like a teacher doing that. For me, wearing a tie was always part of work,” he said. For Class II Dean Cameron Marchant (N ‘02), learning how to tie a tie was an important skill he gained from Nobles. “I learned because I had to do it every day,” he said. 

Over the past decade, the Nobles dress code has become increasingly relaxed, with the allowance of blue denim and shorts, among others. However, as it has become less strict, the dress code has also become increasingly difficult to enforce. For example, “joggers of sweatshirt material” are banned per the 2023-2024 Nobles Guide, yet “the difference between joggers and sweatpants is incredibly open to interpretation,” Marchant said. In addition to being vague, the dress code brings up various ethical issues for teachers. Lyons said she worries about “not only financial issues,” but also “equity issues in terms of who is getting dress coded…are kids with different sizes more likely to be dress coded?”

Students have their own issues with the dress code. To begin with, many students need to purchase an entirely new wardrobe upon their entry to Nobles. “[The] summer before seventh grade, I had to go shop a lot and fill up my entire closet,” Calleigh Brown (Class II) said. 

Others object on philosophical grounds. “Individuality is super important to me. So I feel like if I can’t wear some clothes that I like, it’s kind of hard for me to be motivated to portray a true image of myself at school,” Drew Kahn (Class II) said. Others simply take issue with a certain rule. When asked if she could change anything about the dress code, Reid Hauck (Class IV) replied: “T-shirts.” She would change the fact that students “can’t have words on it that are bigger than a fist just because I feel like that makes it so much more boring.”

The Nobles dress code is intended to be a reflection of our community’s values. It has been redrafted each year to adapt to rapidly changing fashion trends, along with constantly evolving expectations of what to wear in the workplace. Marchant, looking back on his experience with the dress code as a student, said, “It’s part of being a student here, and I wore that almost like a badge of honor.” 

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