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Dressing for Academia

Amidst the day dresses, evening gowns, and gym outfits in a Vassar student’s closet, one might find a uniform or two. Institutionalized academia has its own wardrobe, and when a person dons an academic uniform we must change the kinds of questions we ask. No longer does inspecting a garment merely tell us about the wearer (indeed, it might say nothing at all on this subject) but rather it tells us about the institution affiliated with the uniform. Then, in turn, we can examine the relationship between the personal identity of the wearer and the public identity of the institution.
Traditional events at Vassar, such as Class Day, the Daisy Chain, and Commencement have historically mandated the wearing of a kind of uniform. Daisy Chain bearers wear white dresses, occasionally with a colored sash. Graduation gowns have become progressively standardized, moving from white lace gowns in similar cuts to mass manufactured identical black caps and gowns covering the students’ individual clothing choices. Do uniforms of academia help to portray a person as being more closely aligned with their academic institution and therefore give the impression that the wearer is of greater seriousness or intellect? Did the female students at a Vassar, then a women’s college, feel compelled to adopt academic uniforms in order to convey that they were members of an academic institution, a space that has been historically and traditionally dominated by men?
In examining these dresses, it is important to consider not only what they say about the institution from which they came, or what they say about the person who wore them, but also to discern a kind of dialogue between the two. The dresses that follow were not strictly uniforms, but rather chosen by the students to fit within the boundaries of a dress code.  Their choices reflect how they wished to align themselves with Vassar – not just that they wished to be aligned with it

-this section by Chloe Boxer '12