SBI’s dress code is out of touch

SBI students at Thursday Forum. Photo courtesy: Lebaron Fields

The phrase “dress for success” is a common motto many people live by, although it takes a different meaning depending on your outlook. At Florida A&M’s School of Business and Industry, a professional dress code is enforced.

The policy, located on FAMU’s website, states, “As a professional school, this dress code is intended to contribute to the overall professional development and appearance of the students.”

The dress code deems typical college student clothing like ripped jeans, do-rags, spaghetti straps and others unacceptable. SBI class syllabi state that violating the dress code could result in an unexcused absence.

Sackeena Edwards, a psychology major minoring in business, says the dress code changed her for the better. As a former pre-physical therapy student, the transition to SBI was a bit of a culture shock, leaning on her peers and professors to learn the ropes.

“From the moment I stepped foot in the SBI building I realized that everyone came suited and booted. It was very professional. I kind of felt a little uncomfortable at first because I was wearing a t-shirt and ripped jeans, and I felt it wasn’t acceptable,” she said. “But I didn’t take it as offensive, I took it as an opportunity to improve and express myself differently.”

A more restrictive standard is held for Forums, which are professional development events. The Forum policy states, “SBI students are expected to dress in ‘corporate’ attire during certain components of Professional Development.”

The Forum policy details specific colors, clothing length, jewelry, hair and piercing guidelines for females. For males, earrings, dark shirts, facial piercings, braids and dreads are not acceptable.

After the social reckonings of the summer of 2021, many companies adopted more progressive values and strengthened their diversity, equity and inclusion practices, welcoming potential candidates and employees how they are. Additionally, bills like the Crown Act prohibiting discrimination based on hair have been passed in 18 states since 2019.

L’Oréal, an active company with SBI, exhibits a more relaxed tone to dress codes on its career page: “In general, everybody dresses the way he or she thinks is right — this can be a suit or casual attire. We believe that there are more important matters than dress codes (e.g., to be consumer-centric). Of course, there is the occasional customer or trade partner appointment where a more formal look is appropriate. Nevertheless, you should dress as you feel comfortable.”

It raises the question, is it worth it?

As an HBCU catering to Black students’ best interests, what is the benefit of requiring students to abide by such strict guidelines when their potential employers take a more relaxed approach to professional standards? A better method would include encouraging students to foster relationships with more progressive companies to pursue opportunities.