Do Colleges Have Dress Codes?

young students in denim clothes smiling while holding books

Starting college means getting launched into a whole new, thrilling world, and you should be super pumped about it! Before packing your bags, you need to figure out what you’ll be wearing on campus. Getting just the right items to fit into the social and academic scenes can be a challenge, but solving the problem starts with figuring out the dress code.

Colleges generally don’t have a strict dress code, so the order of the day is a casual, decent outfit. However, more specific dressing requirements are commonplace in private or religion-based colleges. There could also be special rules for social events, interviews, or laboratory work.

In this article, you’ll find out the different dressing norms for college classes, laboratories, social events, and interviews. We’ll also discuss the effect of weather on the general dressing at colleges. Keep reading to learn more!

Dress Code for a College Class

At most colleges, just about anything decent outfit is allowed in a class. The unspoken rule is the earlier the class is, the sloppier you can dress without raising eyebrows. Some could even wear the notorious baggy pajamas to an early-morning class! You wouldn’t be breaking any rule by doing that, but come on, the slob look isn’t cool, is it?

Pajamas aren’t meant for classes, and it’s possible to find an equally comfy casual alternative to avoid wearing them.

An example of a great minimal-effort casual outfit for an early morning class is a stylish hoodie with sweatpants or a sweater with a high skirt or shorts.

You could even pull off a cool athleisure look with pants, a tank top or sleeveless shirt, and a hoodie. Even if you’re tired or you’ve slept through your alarm, you can put together any of these outfits in about five minutes. Pair it with sneakers and comfy socks, and you can be off to your class in no time, looking laid back but super cute.

For a midday class where you have more time to plan your look, you could try out a cute pair of jeans or khakis with a matching top and dress flats instead of sneakers. If you’re up for it, apply some light makeup, do something special with your hair, or add an extra accessory like a scarf or pendant necklace.

No matter the outfit you’re opting for, keep it simple, decent, practical, and super comfortable for you to learn and interact in class. When you put effort into your look, you deserve to feel good about it.

Dress Code for a Laboratory

For a STEM major, you might have classes that will require you to go to the laboratory. There’s a stricter dress code in a lab, so the “anything decent goes” rule for regular class won’t cut it. 

group of students in discussion with teacher in laboratory

All short or half-length clothes aren’t allowed. Essentially, for safety purposes, all of your skin has to be covered while in the laboratory. The most common outfit is a pair of knee-length pants without rips. 

Skirts aren’t strictly ideal, but if you have to wear one, especially for religious reasons, make sure it’s a long one. Like the Department of Chemistry at Michigan State University says, it’s not ideal lab attire if you can see any skin at the ankles.

A proper shirt for the lab should also cover your upper arms and extend as far down as your belly and lower back. Tank tops, cropped shirts, or net mesh shirts are a no-no for the laboratory. If you have long hair, you have to tie it back or in a bun to keep it away from your face and body. You should keep jewelry to the bare minimum and avoid all dangly stuff altogether.

Only shoes that completely cover the feet are allowed in a laboratory. Socks aren’t an appropriate covering, so they can’t cover the rest of your feet to make up for shoes. Ideal laboratory footwear shouldn’t leave any part of your feet exposed, so flats can’t suffice here. The easiest option for shoes in the lab are usually sneakers or tennis shoes.

Dress Code for College Events

College isn’t a cycle and classes; there are also social events where the more stylish sides of your wardrobe get to shine. What you should wear to a college event largely depends on the occasion. 

What To Wear to a College Competition

For a school competition, you should show support for your college by wearing your school’s colors or branded merchandise. An athletic casual outfit is great for a sports match, but you should dress up a little more for a more formal competition like a debate. 

A business casual or dressy casual outfit is usually more appropriate for such an event. If you’re confused, you can never go wrong by asking for advice from those who have attended a previous event.

six ladies walk night club festive social college

What To Wear to a College Formal Event for Men

When you have a club event, a one-on-one meeting with your faculty, a college job interview or a date, it’s definitely time to shake the dust off your formal outfits and dress up to the nines! Depending on what job you’re interviewing for, you could go formal or combine a dress shirt with a more casual sweater and wool pants for a business casual look.

The business casual look won’t cut it for a meeting, though. Your outfit for that has to include a dress shirt with a blazer, grounded pants, and dress shoes. If the event is strictly formal, you should comply with the rule with a tie. Otherwise, you can let it slide if your outfit looks great.

What To Wear to a College Formal Event for Women

For a job interview, you need to look your most professional. A business casual outfit – a top paired with a suit skirt or pants – is a great choice. It’s best to opt for neutral colors because they’re easier to combine and better for appearing professional. Remember to keep it simple, modest, and comfortable with a high neckline and free, breathable clothes.

For a formal event, you can opt for anything from a white-tie floor-length ball dress to a sweeping strapless black-tie dress, a cocktail dress, or even a midi or knee-length option. Depending on the occasion, a great well-tailored dress will usually do. Accessorize with classy but simple matching jewelry, and break out the full-scale smokey-eye makeup. 

The thing with college is, you have to be practical with your shoe game, even for formal events. Stilettos are fabulous for a top-notch chic look, but they may not be the most comfortable heels to walk back to your dorm. Instead, you should consider more comfortable options like chunky block heels, wedges, or dressy sandals.

Does Your College Climate Influence the Dress Code?

The climate around your college is a huge factor determining what most people would wear. In colleges in the northern states like Michigan, Massachusetts, and New York, the weather is generally colder, while those in southern states like Texas, Florida, and California have warmer weather.

It’s essential to pack for the weather so you’re not uncomfortable on your days out. With the wrong clothes, you might have to choose between looking good, spending the day freezing over, or sweating buckets.

person hugging with two hands her satchel

Dress Code Essentials for Hot Weather

Dress Code Essentials for Cold Weather

  • Short-sleeved Shirts
  • Tank Tops
  • Denim Shorts
  • Dress Shorts
  • Sandals
  • Airy Maxi Skirts
  • Tights
  • Camisoles and Undershirts


Remember, rules in individual colleges may differ from the general ones. If your college has a specific dress code, it’s nothing you can’t work with! Here is a CollegeXpress list of US colleges with dress codes that you could look up to prepare yourself. After all, getting the perfect outfit is not so much about the dress code as planning and preparation!

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