This school year, Sacred Heart Cathedral instituted its third dress code in three years.
During my freshman year and for many years prior, students were required to always wear an SHC polo, while maintaining the freedom to wear our outerwear of choice. Last year, students were to wear either an SHC t-shirt or collared shirt (open ended: including flannels, Hawaiian shirts, and more), while supposedly being required to display SHC outerwear. However, this dress code was poorly enforced; by the end of the year, students were wearing whatever they desired, including sweatpants. This year, only solid color polos are allowed, and all outerwear must be Sacred Heart Cathedral branded. Although there have been other changes in the personal appearance code — such as the newfound ability of men to wear earrings — I will focus on outerwear for this article, as it is the most controversial part of the code.
At the end of last school year, Principal Gary Cannon sent out an email detailing the following points as foundational principles of our personal appearance code. I will quote Dr. Cannon, and issue a rebuttal on how our current dress code fails to do a better job espousing each principle he establishes when compared to our prior dress codes.
Point #1- Safety
Dr. Cannon: “It is important that our students have a certain look that allows us to know that these students go to SHC. In terms of Campus Safety, our guards before and after school are on the lookout for students who come from other schools and for safety reasons are not allowed on our campus. Our dress code, our SHC look, helps enormously with this issue because we can identify our students easily and address any issues that can arise.”
For over 10 years preceding the 2018-2019 school year, students were allowed to wear the outerwear of their choice, as long as a Sacred Heart Cathedral polo was underneath. Oftentimes no SHC logo was openly displayed, but the campus safety team had no problems identifying students, due to our “khaki pants look.” In addition, we have modified dress days during which students may dress as they wish. If common, identifiable garments are really so essential to our safety, should we feel unsafe on modified dress days?
Point #2- Socio-Economic
Dr. Cannon: “A strength of a dress code is that everyone in many ways looks similar. Regardless of a family’s socio-economic situation, the value of each student as an individual is exactly the same. Our dress code should reflect that fundamental dignity. Our diversity is a strength and a challenge and our dress code helps meet some of the challenges that sometimes come with our culture’s labeling of people based on their socio-economic background.”
I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Cannon in that students’ attire should not reflect their financial status. However, SHC outerwear is expensive. The SHC patagonia is 110 dollars! If someone wears that, their affluent socio-economic status is on full display. Most garments are well over fifty dollars, which is fifty more dollars more expensive than one’s preexisting outerwear. SHC is in fact forcing students to procure more clothes. Therefore, the current dress code completely neglects this core objective.
Point #3- Self-Discipline
Dr. Cannon: “Families choose SHC for a well rounded education and we have high expectations for our students. The self discipline that they learn through personal accountability serves them well once they leave SHC. It is often part of the maturation process for high school students to test rules.”
Here, Dr. Cannon claims self-discipline gained at SHC will be used long after we Leave to Serve. I agree with this point, in that self discipline is an integral part of life. However, many other facets of the SHC education teach self-discipline (in a more positively reinforcing manner). For example, if one does good work in a course, they receive an A. In short, I believe that self-discipline in high schoolers is mainly derived from completing assignments in a timely manner.
Admittedly, any dress code does teach a certain amount of self-discipline. Nonetheless, I don’t believe that mandatory SHC outerwear is the only way to achieve this objective.
I completely acknowledge the school’s right to bind the student body with the dress code of their choice. We chose to attend a Catholic school, and we must abide by the rules that come with the territory.
However, I don’t believe that the school went about this new dress code in the right manner. Students were acclimated to wearing whatever outerwear they desire, and this dress code greatly restricts the individuality that had become a staple of the code. SHC outerwear is also unusually distinctive, with our green school color. Afterschool, students walking about the city are branding pawns of the school (if one must wear SHC outerwear to school, they will typically wear it after school as well). I’ve heard rumors that a large factor in the institution of this new personal appearance code was to better market and publicize the school. Well, it sure does achieve that objective!
The new dress code provides no benefit over prior ones, while increasing financial costs and reducing the individualism that is a hallmark of the SHC “look.” Unfortunately, I can’t help but hope for yet another new dress code next year.