When Mr. Bradley, leaning on the chapel pulpit, delivered the news, he was met with a chorus of half-joking groans from the upper school student body. Hooded sweatshirts would no longer be permitted under the dress code! And, middle schoolers would now be allowed to wear sneakers! Speaking over the protests, Mr. Bradley offered a rationale: “We just don’t think sweatshirts go with the look.” Students have a right to be (mildly) angry over these changes, and not just because middle schoolers stand to benefit; the modifications unnecessarily restrict upper schoolers while providing no substantial benefits.
Sweatshirts can be advantageous in ways overlooked by the administration. Other than simply providing warmth, they add originality and variety to a dress code often characterized as “a sea of blue blazers.” While looking good for tours was mentioned as a major impetus for the sweatshirt ban, prospective students could possibly enjoy seeing the more comfortable style of a sweatshirt, helping assuage any worries they may have about the otherwise draconian dress code. The sweatshirts, many of which feature a Belmont Hill design, broadcast a love of the school which is impressive to touring families. Some parents may prefer a neater look, but let’s be honest; many students feature outfits that don’t exactly fit the mold of the well-put-together jacket and tie. Bright floral shirts and colorful ties embroidered with zany designs are no more formal than sweatshirts, yet they are, thankfully, still allowed under the dress code.
If the school were consistent in neatening our attire, the decision would be tougher to argue. However, coupling the sweatshirt ban with the new sneaker rule seems contradictory. If the school wants to tighten the dress code, why would they loosen it for the middle school? Do sneakers “go with the look” of a blazer and khakis? For years, one of the great traditions of Belmont Hill was the first day wearing sneakers to school. After years of boat shoes with laces that would not stay tied (Seriously, how hard can it be? We put a man on the moon, but Sperry can’t make a functional shoelace), sneakers felt like freedom. It was so much more than an improvement in comfort; it was an earned privilege and a rite of passage into the upper school. We had paid our dues, and now we could sport our Nikes with pride. As a result of this change, middle schoolers will no longer get to experience this thrill of earning their stripes (if Adidas is your preferred brand). I can already see it… the next crop of middle schoolers, believing sneakers are a right, not a privilege, strutting around like they own the campus.
Of course, I am overreacting to this news. Losing sweatshirts isn’t a very big deal. I, for one, never actually wore a hoodie – I found it too bulky under the blazer – and the school probably has a point in enforcing the dress code. And maybe middle schoolers deserve a gift; they have a tough few years waiting for them. But if the change makes first formers feel that they can be any more assertive at milk and cookies, that’s reason enough to oppose it.