Wardrobe "Prescription"

GA Uniform - It's True!

Yesterday, Germantown Academy, my Alma Mater, prescribed all Middle and Upper School students a new dress code. Released under the brand name "GA Gear," the new code is to be taken five times weekly beginning with the 2006-2007 school year.

While the code does require all shirts to display the GA logo, The Academy did not follow my advice regarding corporate sponsorship. It's like throwing money down the drain. Speaking of money, I'm going to see about becoming an official GA uniform vendor and getting my Café B shirt added to the prescription.

Thanks to Evan for pointing me to this important GA news.

It looks like the links to GA's site change from time to time, so if they point to random news items, please don't be confused.

Since the new "code" is actually a uniform* rather than a set of guidelines, I wonder if the faculty should be required to wear "GA Gear" as well. The reasoning behind the uniform is "to increase Germantown Academy's visible institutional identity..." "...provide one consistent look," and a bunch of that "community" stuff that they love to talk about, which is fine. But won't that image will break down when the teachers are visually indistinguishable from visitors?

As far as I know, the faculty has always had a dress code, perhaps unwritten, and life has gone on without major incidents. But when the students have an obviously more restricted appearance, we have two problems.

First, teachers often dress more casually than the uniform described on GA's website. It's a common convention that a leader, authority figure, or someone who is speaking publicly (even in a classroom), should be dressed a little more formally than the audience. This has generally been true at GA, as students tend to dress more casually than adults, so a button-down shirt, plus a tie (or equivalent for women) if you want to be really safe, easily does the trick. But if the students are suddenly held to what could be viewed as a higher standard than the average faculty member (polo shirts may be considered casual, but the GA logo makes a difference), then things won't look right.

But I'm sure the community will naturally adapt and teachers will dress more formally. I also realize that uniforms can also be viewed as "lower" than someone who dresses formally but out of uniform. However, I said there were two problems, which leads me to the second. The uniform creates a barrier, and barriers are not good things. One of the things that I liked about GA was how approachable the teachers were. This became more apparent when I went to college, and saw that very few students had any interaction with the professors before or after class. I was even mistaken for a T.A. by several people simply because they saw me talking to the professor outside of class discussions. But if people are constantly reminded that students and teachers are different, even if it is just the fact that students are forced to wear a uniform, I'm afraid GA will lose this unique attribute and teachers will become less accessible. This idea was explained to me by Lex Fenwick, CEO of Bloomberg L.P., last year when I visited their offices with a class. He showed us his name tag, which I believe simply said, "LEX,"** and pointed out that there was no indication of job position on the tag. While it probably doesn't apply to him as much since everyone there knows him, he explained that two people could meet in the hallway and share their thoughts about the company (or anything else) without one party feeling intimidated because he or she notices that the other is of a higher rank. If the badges did show rank, it would be less likely for a subordinate to even initiate a conversation with a superior in the first place. The same can be applied to students and teachers.

I've ranted a bit, but I hope what I said was coherent. Honestly, I'm not sure if I'm right about any of this, nor do I even feel like I'm taking a side. So don't feel like you have to agree or disagree with me. It's just something to think about.

*All shirts are required to display the GA logo.
**Airport code for Blue Grass Airport, Lexington, KY.

Posted: Thursday - April 27, 2006 at 06:31 PM