College Students: Dressing Up or Dressing Down

Emily Antoon, Darryl Barrard, Chris Calvo, Chloe di Tusa

Most university students have the privilege to dress  as they please on campus. Nowadays, Louisiana State University students can be often seen in very casual/laid-back attire as they head to their classes. This, however, does not apply to every student in the university. Some students prefer to dress up in clothes that look “showy” or more formal than casual wear, which focuses more on appearance rather than comfort. This type of attire was more common during LSU’s humble beginning as a military academy during the 1800’s. The idea of what to wear on campus can also change depending on the university or college in question. Historically Black Colleges and Universities tend to enforce a dress code upon their students while most Predominantly White Institutions like LSU tend to have a liberal view on dress code. This post will focus on how student attire on LSU has evolved since the beginning, how students view their daily attire on campus and how it compares to students from a HBCU.

class of 1902
Figure 1: LSU Class of 1902

In 1853, LSU was an all-male military school named the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning and Military Academy. Because it was a military institution, students adhered to a strict dress code: White shirt, gloves, a belt, khaki pants and provided standard issue uniform. Provided uniforms do vary depending on the rank of the student, the only difference being the collar or shoulder insignia representing different ranks. That remained the norm until LSU’s slow transition into an academic institution following the end of the civil war on 1865. The university remained an all-male institution in the early 1900’s, abandoning the military uniform for a more casual but still formal attire: brown blazer, khakis with black shirt and shoes (Figure 1).  Female students were not able to apply to LSU until 1906. The standard female attire consisted of their choice of dress that didn’t show a lot of skin, with a long skirt that reached the ankles. For the women during this time, clothing that showed even a tiny patch of skin aside from the head and hands was improper. There was no room for variation because clothing was an expensive commodity during the period leading up to World War I. The university also actively took disciplinary action against any dress code violations.

students during a tailgate 1989
Figure 2: LSU students during a tailgate in 1989

It wasn’t until the 50’s following the end of World War II when the militaristic style of clothing went out of style and gave way to a laxer, but still formal attire (Cunningham 2018). A blazer with button-down shirt and slacks or khakis became the norm for male students. The suit and tie were no longer the norm during classes and is reserved more formal social settings. Female students were able to wear less restrictive clothing, with dresses that have shorter skirts and sleeves. The following years shared the same trend of transitioning into a more casual style (Cunningham 2018). The 60’s had a “youthquake” that encouraged many students of the same generation to adopt various styles of dress, while the 70’s and the 80’s introduced the normalization of collegiate sports-wear (Brasted 2014). From the 80’s to the 90’s, the transition from khakis and slacks and blue jeans and shorts became more apparent, for both male and female students (Figure 2). The cost of manufacturing clothing had gone down during this period, so a variety of clothing options have become more available to everyone. It can be said that the university adopted a more comfortable style of dressing. Wearing a button-down shirt with slacks to class is now seen as dressing-up and unnecessary when you could just wear a shirt and some sweatpants. The thought of wearing formal attire to classes is now a thing of the past.

To have a better view of what student attire in LSU looks like now, The authors of this post have decided to venture out on campus to get answers straight from the students themselves. Picking interviewees at random, the staff developed a set of questions regarding attire strictly on campus. Similar questions were also written to HBCU students to avoid a biased comparison. It can be concluded that the daily trends in casual and comfortable apparel are manipulated by campus conditions after analyzing the student’s responses. Conditions such as weather, academic intensity, and outside activities manipulate what students wear. To avoid confusion from terminology, it was important to establish an agreeable definition of casual and comfortable between the interviewer and interviewee. Prior to each question, it was made clear that both parties shared the same concept of casual and comfortable clothing. Casual can be defined as clothing that can give a good first impression and suitable for a professional environment. This pertains to garments such as jeans, nice shirts, Polos, tennis shoes, and maybe a jacket depending on the weather. Comfortable can be defined as clothes fit for relaxed environments: sweatpants, basketball shorts, and t-shirts. After establishing a firm understanding of terminology, students were asked a set of questions that depicted their choice of attire. The questions were written to find out when, why, and how students dress on campus. Students were asked how often they dressed casually, and what kind attire they see often on campus. A student’s daily routine will shape the way they express themselves through their clothes. With that in mind, seasonal changes and academic intensity were included as bases for the questions:” Does cold or warmer weather influence you to dress more casually or comfortably?” “Does school intensity influence you to dress differently?”.

After reviewing the results, the predictions for the answers were correct. LSU students tend to dress more comfortably than casually. After asking 12 different students, all 12 stated that their peers and other students tend to dress for comfort on campus. Despite these numbers, their answers do not represent every student on campus; There are a select few outliers that do not support this data. Out of 12 students, 75% claimed to dress more comfortably on a weekly basis while 25% claimed to dress more casually. This can be attributed to the weather on campus.

The weather has a major impact on the clothing choices of college students on LSU’s campus. Based on weather reports collected from the years 1985-2015 in Baton Rouge, the average high in August is 92 degrees Fahrenheit and the average high in December is 62 degrees Fahrenheit. As temperatures change, so do the styles of students on campus. At the beginning of the fall semester, temperatures are excruciatingly hot. Athletic shorts and t-shirts are the most commonly seen articles of clothing seen on campus by male and female students. As the temperatures drop, the styles of clothing tend to change. Some students tend to lean towards more casual types of clothing such as jeans, sweaters, and boots to stay warm. Other students are seen wearing sweats and leggings to keep warm. Students typically dress according to the temperature outside when they wake up, but as the day continues, the temperature inside influences the clothing choices of students (De Carli, et. al. 3965). In Louisiana, the high and low temperatures in a single day can vary drastically.  Most students decide what to wear by checking the temperature outside. Oftentimes later in the day, their clothes will not match what the weather is outside. Another factor that affects what students wear is the temperature of the buildings students spend their time in. For example, the temperature of classrooms and study spaces impact what students decide to wear because they will be in those spaces for extended periods of time. Many indoor spaces in LSU are heated during the late fall and winter and cooled during the late spring. Most of the students that attend LSU commute to campus, and the parking options available to these students are by no means close to classes. It can be said that the clothing worn by students is greatly affected by how far away the students park from classes.

With that in mind the results found that 60% of students tend to dress more casual in cold weather and another sixty-percent dressed comfortable in hot weather; jeans and jackets with nice shoes during the winter and Nike shorts with a t-shirt in the summer. Scooter, a student at LSU stated: “My idea of a winter outfit is skinny jeans with Uggs, a nice sweater top and maybe a scarf to match” (Adams 2018,). 30%  of students claimed to dress comfortably all year round; basketball shorts with tank tops in the summer and sweatpants or leggings with a hoodie in the winter. The remaining 10% claimed to dress casually in the summer and comfortable in the winter; jeans or shorts accompanied with a crop-top or a nice shirt in the summer and leggings with a hoodie in the winter. With the majority of students agreeing to dressing more casually in the winter, it was expected that there would be a significant number of casual dressers. The interviewees enjoy dressing casually in the winter because it allows them to be creative by adding layers to their outfit. In the summer it is typical to be limited to two a shirt and some pants because of the heat. The winter allows people to be more expressive by adding multiple layers and mixing more colors.

The main point of the interviews is to compare the way LSU students and HBCU students dress on campus. The staff predicted that HBCU students will dress more casually. Like the LSU students, the Xavier students were informed about the definitions casual and comfortable along with their differences. After the reviewing the finished survey, 100% of students said that Xavier’s attire is much more casual than comfortable. They were then asked to explain what a typical Xavier outfit looks like. One of the students, Tyler Billew said “Here it’s more casual, a nice t-shirt with some jeans, could be ripped or un-ripped with a nice pair of vans or Jordan’s” (Billew 2018). According to other students, HBCUs have a casual attire because the black people always have something to prove. The African American Community has a standard to live up to as they are stereotyped by appearance and style.

100% of students from both LSU and Xavier admitted to dressing comfortable all the time when school gets tough. This interview was recorded before finals week, which is the busiest week of the semester. Consequently, the interviewee’s answers did not match what they wore during the interview. For example, Xavier students and a few select LSU students claimed to dress more casual on a weekly basis. However, nearly all those students were dressed for comfort during their interviews. Abby, a student at Xavier stated “I dress casually four days out of the week, but specifically for finals week I dress comfortably” (Charlise 2018).  As expected, LSU students answered similarly to Xavier students and admitted to dressing comfortably when school gets tough. Alex, a LSU student said “when finals come around there’s only one thing that matters and that’s finals, I don’t have time to wear something casual I’m going to throw on whatever I see that fits.”(Leday 2018). Based on all of the students that were interviewed, nearly 100% of students dress comfortable during tough times on campus.

Based on the answers by students from LSU and Xavier it can be concluded that LSU students heavily favor dressing comfortably for their everyday routine on campus. Factors such as weather, academic intensity and personal preference manipulate how LSU students dress on a daily basis. Comparatively, other PWIs may share the same degree of freedom, but HBCUs have a lingering duty to improve their image for the sake of their students. The diversity of attire on LSU would not have been possible in the past when societal norms were a lot more restrictive on men and women. Now college students are free to dress up or dress down.

Works Cited:

Adams, Scooter. Personal Interview. 20 Nov. 2018.

“Annual Weather Averages in Baton Rouge”. Time and Date,    Web. Accessed 13 November             2018.

Billew, Tyler. Personal Interview. 20 Nov. 2018.

Brasted, Chelsey and Emily Lane. “Fashion & Football: LSU fans’ wardrobes reflect 100 years of social change.” The Times-Picayune, 7 Nov. 2014, Web. Accessed 21 Nov. 2018

Charlise, Abby. Personal Interview. 20 Nov. 2018.

Cunningham, Patricia A. “Fashion.” Encyclopedia of American Studies, edited by Simon Bronner, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1st edition, 2018. Credo Reference. Web. Accessed 30 Nov. 2018.

De Carli, Michele, et. al., “People’s Clothing Behavior According to External Weather and   Indoor  Environment”. Building and Environment. Vol. 42, issue 12, December 2007, pp.  3965-   3973. Web. Accessed 14 November 2018.

Leday, Alex. Personal Interview. 20 Nov. 2018.

The class of 1902”. Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College, “Gumbo Yearbook, Class of 1900” (1900). Gumbo Yearbook. 3. Web. Accessed 21 Nov. 2018.

Students during a tailgate in 1989“. Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College, “Gumbo Yearbook, Class of 1989” (1989). Gumbo Yearbook. 3. Web. Accessed 21 Nov. 2018.

YouTube. ”Adams Interview Clip” Online video clip. YouTube, 30 Nov 2018. Web. Accessed 30 November 2018. 

YouTube. ”Alex Interview Clip” Online video clip. YouTube, 30 Nov 2018. Web. Accessed 30 November 2018. 

YouTube. ”How does school affect your attire” Online video clip. YouTube, 30 Nov 2018. Web. Accessed 30 November 2018. 

YouTube. “Tyler Interview Clip” Online video clip. YouTube, 30 Nov 2018. Web. Accessed 30 November 2018.



Students during a tailgate in 1989“. Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College, “Gumbo Yearbook, Class of 1989” (1989). Gumbo Yearbook. 3. Web. Accessed 21 Nov. 2018.


YouTube. ”Adams Interview Clip” Online video clip. YouTube, 30 Nov 2018. Web. Accessed 30 November 2018.


YouTube. ”Alex Interview Clip” Online video clip. YouTube, 30 Nov 2018. Web. Accessed 30 November 2018.


YouTube. ”How does school affect your attire” Online video clip. YouTube, 30 Nov 2018. Web. Accessed 30 November 2018.


YouTube. “Tyler Interview Clip” Online video clip. YouTube, 30 Nov 2018. Web. Accessed 30 November 2018.