We’ve all seen the stereotypical depictions of college students running into class late, wearing clothes that obviously were slept in. If you’re a college professor or adviser, chances are you’ve seen this stereotype in action. And, honestly, I never cared as long as the student was in class.
But what to wear or what not to wear becomes a little confusing when you’re a student professional. The topic of a dress code for student journalists comes up regularly among college media advisers. Some advisers think student journalists should dress at least semi-professionally for the job, while others are concerned about students who may not have money for professional attire.
My take is that, if student journalists want to be taken seriously as professionals, they need to dress the part. This is vague and a bit situational, but student journalists are adults and what they wear should be left to their own discretion.
It’s unrealistic to ask a student journalist to wear a suit or dress every day. However, it’s not unrealistic to expect them to look clean and well put together, even when they are wearing a fraternity T-shirt and cargo shorts. A responsible image is more important to me than exactly what they are wearing.
Some student media outlets have policies about how student journalists should dress. I realized when researching to write this piece that the publications staff I advised for almost two decades did not have a dress code policy. This is an oversight. It seems unfair to expect a certain thing from students, but not outline those expectations. The publications staff I current work with has a more specific dress code policy that I don’t totally agree with, and I’ll likely suggest they revise the policy. The question then becomes, what should be included in a student journalist dress code policy?
To me, an ideal dress code policy would read like this:
All student media staff should look professional when representing the staff. While appropriate dress may be dependent on the assignment, student media staff should present themselves in a clean, organized manner that reflects their professional competence.
A blanket-type statement about dress gives students a basic understanding of what’s expected of them. It also allows for educational conversations to occur when a student isn’t dressing appropriately for the job.
Verbally, I encourage students to “dress for the job they want, not the job they have.” I also would tell student journalists that non-wrinkled pants or shorts with a staff shirt is acceptable for most on-campus assignments.
Appropriate dress is situational. It depends on the university, who the student is interviewing and where the interview will occur. Regardless of these factors, it’s important for student journalists to look clean and professional at all times, and to remember that they’re representing the staff and program as a unit, not just themselves.