“. . . clothe yourself with splendor and majesty . . .” – Psalm 45:3
At the time our son Marc decided to pursue his higher education at Sewanee (officially The University of the South), I knew little about the school except that it’s a small liberal arts college with a credible academic reputation, located somewhere in rural Tennessee on a mountaintop. One thing surprised me, though, and that’s its adherence to a long-standing dress code requiring male students to wear coats and ties to class, and women students to wear skirts. Sounds like a throw-back from a bygone era, doesn’t it? I thought so too – that is, until I began to understand the wisdom behind it.
Our culture is not much in to coats and ties these days. Even the Wall Street banking world where I came from started drifting toward more casual attire long before I left that profession over fifteen years ago. Few people even put on their best bib-and-tucker, as my mother used to say, to attend religious services anymore, myself included. But there was a time when it was the norm. I even recall a time when bow-ties were part of the khaki uniforms worn by gas station attendants, delivery people, and auto mechanics.
What Sewanee recognizes, as I’m sure do other places that maintain similar high standards, is the correlation between looking our best and performing at our best. Conversely, mediocre appearance can influence both mediocre performance as well as behavior.
Technology has certainly changed how we do our work, affording many to work from home, at least part of the time. It’s a great benefit in many ways. I office from home myself. Yet, I notice myself more productive when I dress well – though alone – as opposed to sitting around in PJ’s or workout clothes. And even my demeanor on the phone is more professional when I look nice, even though invisible to the other party.
Appearances are not everything, that’s for sure. But there is something to be said for presenting ourselves well, for by doing so we dignify those with whom we come in contact, not just ourselves. “. . . clothe yourself with splendor and majesty . . . ,” the Psalmist said. Or as another wise person put it, “dress like you mean business.” And that’s the great wisdom behind Sewanee’s adherence to its long-standing dress code.