Dress shoes controversy show coming shift

Lleyton Winslow ’20

Walking down the hall after second period, I am abruptly stopped by two teachers. Without a word, they point to my shoes. I look down: on my feet are red “OTW Sidewall Old Skool” Vans, my most beloved shoes. “Those,” they exclaim, “are sneakers.”

     “But they’re Vans, I thought they were allowed,” I respond.

     “Yeah, but not these. Too much color.”

     One of the teachers finally says: “Imagine wearing these shoes to your first job interview. Imagine how unprofessional you would look.”

     This encounter got me thinking about how schools come up with dress codes, the difference between dress shoes and sneakers, and the fashion of the “working world.”

     Haverford’s strict dress code is laid out with little room for interpretation: Button-down shirt, tie, blazer, and dress shoes. However, over the past year or two, Vans and other traditional boat shoes and skate sneakers have been permitted, allowing that they are a solid color and not too flashy.

Op-art by Tyler Zimmer ’21 and Agustin Aliaga ’21

     I understand the need for a dress code, and I would even go as far as to say I support it.

The tight ban on sneakers is where [the dress code] begins to go wrong.

     It is still possible to have creative outfits even with its heavy restrictions; I wear colorful bow-ties, pants, and sweaters. However, the tight ban on sneakers is where it begins to go wrong.

     The first reason is practicality. Dress shoes are traditionally worn with fancy suits and ties; in other words, on special occasions rather than every day. Therefore, the shoemakers usually forego comfort in favor of the material, design, and look of the shoe. Often, dress shoe soles are stiff and hard, and walking every day for extended periods can lead to discomfort and pain. Many sneakers nowadays use new technology to make soles more comfortable for active lives; whether it is running, sports, or even just walking to work, sneakers will reduce the wear on your body from all movement.

     Second, the culture surrounding sneakers has changed immensely over the past couple of decades, especially in these last few. Sneakers are no longer the pair of shoes that you only wear during exercise; many people’s wardrobes are exclusively sneakers, designating pairs for different activities like work, exercise, partying, and more.

     In addition, streetwear designers like the popular Virgil Abloh and his brand Off-White have made collaborations with high fashion brands like Louis Vuitton, essentially bridging the gap between the high fashion community and sneakers.

     Thirdly, my teacher’s comment on a job interview is also not entirely true. There are definitely professions that still maintain the suit-and-tie attire: law, business, and many other professions have been wearing these clothes for over a century. But many white-collar, desk-based careers nowadays don’t have this same culture. An example is tech companies, where the employees wear casual clothes every day, like hoodies, sweatpants, jeans, and of course, sneakers. Look at Mark Zuckerburg, arguably the most successful man in the tech world, who wears a simple t-shirt and jeans every day. These companies are shifting the culture surrounding work wear, and many professions are following suit.

 Although sneakers stand out as the link that needs to go immediately, perhaps the khakis, shirt, and tie are next.

     Hopefully, schools that prepare its students for upcoming lives in the workforce, realize the change in the professional world and will change their dress codes appropriately.

     Although sneakers stand out as the link that needs to go immediately, perhaps the khakis, shirt, and tie are next.

Author: Lleyton Winslow '20

Lleyton Winslow '20 is a student in the journalism seminar and a writer and editor for the school's literary magazine Pegasus. Winslow is also a member of the Black Student Union, the Diversity Alliance, and the track team.