Home IT management NCAT Instructor’s Dress Code Raises Questions About ‘Professional’ Attire

NCAT Instructor’s Dress Code Raises Questions About ‘Professional’ Attire

NCAT Instructor’s Dress Code Raises Questions About ‘Professional’ Attire


A dress code for a computer programming course at an HBCU in North Carolina got more attention than students’ clothing when it recently circulated on Twitter. While the dress code has been taken off the syllabus, the incident shows that once you leave college and enter the workforce, the definition of professional attire differs depending on who you ask and often who you are.

The dress code, from a class syllabus at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, quickly gained 3 million views when it was posted on Twitter. The professor included bonnets, durags, hoodies, “booty shorts,” “coochie cutter shorts” and “twerk shorts” on his banned list.

“If you wear it to bed or the club, don’t wear it to class,” he wrote.

For college students, the definition of workwear is murky, considering the history of professionalism equating to white favoritism. The syllabus left me, a middle-aged BIPOC woman working in talent acquisition, scratching my head.

As a point of reference, bonnets and durags protect hair and preserve hairstyles overnight. For centuries, the public discourse around Black women and head coverings has been a heated topic.

In the 1700s, Black women were banned from wearing their hair uncovered in Louisiana due to The Tignon Laws. This law, enacted by Spanish Governor of Louisiana Esteban Rodríguez Miró, was targeted to connect freed Black women to those enslaved by wearing a tignon (scarf or handkerchief) on the head. The tactic backfired when Black women embellished fabrics turning the suppressive Law into a fashion craze.

For many, keeping up with the present-day policing of blackness is exhausting.

As reporter Darian Symoné Harvin put it in a piece for Allure on public bonnet wearing, “Being a Black woman feels like an act of resistance. Every aspect of our identities is policed, and it feels like we can never please people.” Harvin believes wearing a bonnet in public is, “a personal choice. The way we look and the perception of our looks should not influence the way we are treated.”

So how does one dress professionally and still be authentic?

Consider Workplace Cues

Dr. Edmund Kellerman, a long-time Master Lecturer/Fulbright Scholar at the University of Florida, has helped thousands of students prepare for the job market over the last 30 years and believes that the key to identifying professional attire comes down to workplace cues. “There is always the perception that dressing mainstream professional is based on white Anglo-Saxon Protestant standards,” he said.

Kellerman said that most professors still recommend “standard preppy attire for men and women.” However, he believes that times have changed since his days as a student. Take crop tops, for example. “Crops tops in class, no problem. Crop tops at work, only if accompanied by a blazer.”

But in the age of Zoom meetings, just make sure you’re actually wearing clothes. “Remember to wear pants or bottoms just in case you forget and stretch on camera,” Kellerman helpfully added.

Decide How You Want To Be Recognized

According to Julie Petr, executive director of Dress For Success Indianapolis, taking the audience and work environment into account and “deciding what you want to achieve” are the first steps in determining which type of professional dress is right for you.

“If one wants to be recognized first and foremost for their skills and experience versus their fashion, a more traditional look won’t overshadow that or be a disrupter for a first impression,”said Petr. “If one wants to be recognized first and foremost from a creative, bold perspective, then the traditional route may not be the way to go.”

Make An Effort

Despite varied dress codes across industries, employers say that clothing matters in first interviews. Dress for Success has served women for over 20 years and regularly meets with employers about organizational dress codes and expectations for candidates.

“Our corporate partners tell us the first impression makes a difference, and clothing still counts. They want to see candidates, whether in person or on video, look like they made an effort,” said Petr. “The words we hear from image consultants are savvy, neat and tailored.” There is a lot of room within this standard for self-expression.

In an evolving landscape, we can define professional attire as individuals. Keep in mind that complying with an industry’s standard dress code will not hurt your chances of getting a new job when interviewing. Once in the new role day to day workwear is often more relaxed with varying degrees of freedom.

If you are still deciding what to wear to your job interview, consider what makes you feel most confident. Getting a new job is about the right fit between an employer and the candidate. Showing up feeling self-assured is crucial in the interview process, as it helps you land at a company that appreciates everything you bring to the table.


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