Mount Holyoke dress codes unravel with time

 Photos courtesy of Archives and Special Collections  Students wear dresses and skirts to enjoy after-dinner coffee in the lounge of Buckland residence hall in 1960.

Photos courtesy of Archives and Special Collections

Students wear dresses and skirts to enjoy after-dinner coffee in the lounge of Buckland residence hall in 1960.

BY STEPH BRIOUKOVA ’20

“At the beginning, I was surprised at people walking around on the reg with no bra on,” said Alice Richardson ’18 about her first semester of college. “Like, it was very obvious that they had no bra on.”

At 21st-century Mount Holyoke, students’ fashion choices are relatively unregulated, with some students even speculating that the campus is clothing-optional. But the College wasn’t always lenient on clothing policies. Mount Holyoke used to have strict dress codes in the early to mid-20th century. 

The student handbooks from 1918-1929 made no mention of any dress code or social rules pertaining to clothing. However, the 1937 student handbook mentioned that in college, “girls tend to become careless about appearance,” so to counteract this tendency, Mount Holyoke made it a point to encourage students to “dress for dinner.” 

From 1945 to 1946, following WWII, Mount Holyoke encouraged students to preserve feminine, trim appearances. The first-year handbook suggested new students bring one to two dinner dresses with them to school. 

The handbook also mentioned a popular and scandalous photograph published in newspapers of college women in blue jeans and wrinkled men’s shirts, stressing the need for feminity. During this time and from 1954 to 1955, students were required to wear dresses or suits for lectures, traveling and dinners.

The early 1960s ushered in more specific policies regarding dress codes. In the student government handbooks from 1962 to 1970, students were informed to “use discretion” in their campus dress. 

The 1962-1965 student handbooks stated that skirts were to be worn to all evening meals, and a suit or dress was to be worn to Wednesday and Sunday dinners. Additionally, skirts were to be worn to church services, evening lectures, concerts, on Sunday afternoons and into the cities of Holyoke and Northampton. The only shorts allowed were bermuda shorts on campus and short shorts on athletic fields. However, the short shorts needed to be covered with a skirt or coat when crossing campus.

In the 1968 first-year handbook, it’s clear that fashion rules had become more lenient. Casual campus wear ranged from bermudas and sweatshirts and dinnertime ensembles required stockings and heels. The handbook reminded readers that dressing up might be a nuisance at times, but it is a “quiet reminder we are still feminine.” 

From 1967 to 1968, the student body complained about campus living and the dress code, resulting in reformed social rules by the College Council. In 1968, problems between students and the College Council surfaced, with the student body citing the College Council as “useless” and “ineffective.” Thus, the Rules Committee in 1968 facilitated the dress code change for residence halls such that their residents could decide on dress regulations.

In 1969 and 1970, the language of “discretion” was still used in student handbooks, but regulations concerning gracious living and dinners were determined by the joint action of each separate hall and their residents. By 1972, the dress code had disappeared, and recommendations found in the first-year handbook mainly focused on the New England weather.

“If you have been worrying about what clothes to bring, STOP!” stated the 1998 student handbook. “Dressing for warmth and comfort is the goal for most of the year.”

 Students attend class in the 70s, when student handbook apparel guidelines advised students to “use discretion.”

Students attend class in the 70s, when student handbook apparel guidelines advised students to “use discretion.”

 Mount Holyoke students and President Elizabeth Kennan (left) dress for the weather on Founder’s Day in 1991.

Mount Holyoke students and President Elizabeth Kennan (left) dress for the weather on Founder’s Day in 1991.

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