Horrors! Sweater-wearing Freshmen

This odd little op-ed piece in the February 19, 1915 Dalhousie Gazette1caught my eye as I was looking through the Dalhousie University archives for insight into what campus life would have been like for my grandmother Velma during her time there. Based on the time and place, I would expect there to have been a dress code in force. The 1916-1917 University Calendar has a Discipline section prohibiting students from “conducting themselves in an unbecoming manner on or beyond the premises of the College”2 However, there is no dress code delineated. Young gentlemen and young ladies must have been expected to know how to dress appropriately for the classroom without being told.

As I was smugly thinking that my professors at Old Dominion University were much more progressive and tolerant than the unnamed professorial chair, I remembered a certain professor of British literature who launched into a complaint at the start of class one day about young women wearing eye makeup that gave their faces a reptilian appearance. That remark was probably uncalled for and displaying questionable taste–particularly in view of the fact that one such young woman was sitting in the first row right in front of him.

Academic Costume

While I didn’t find a dress code in the University Calendar, I did discover that students at that time could wear academic gowns to classes, in the British tradition:3

More snapshots from Velma’s Dalhousie days explained!

Lois Smith, Velma Moore, Ottillie Caddell

Velma Moore, Lois Smith, Ottillie Caddell

1“Has This Professor Too Much To Say?” The Dalhousie Gazette XLVII, no. 9 (February 19, 1915): 10.

2Dalhousie University, Calendar of Dalhousie University: 1916-1917 (Halifax, Nova Scotia: Wm. McNab & Son, 1916), 21.

3Dalhousie University, Calendar of Dalhousie, 22.

10 thoughts on “Horrors! Sweater-wearing Freshmen

  1. It’s hard to imagine that the wearing of sweaters would be objectionable, and I also wish to know what they were expected to wear. I had to look up a couple of the words & allusions: Beau Brummel (for many years the arbiter of fashion in Regency England); Chesterfeldian (Chesterfield , 4th Earl of, 1694-1773, noted for his elegant manners, and Letters to his son in which he expounded on principles of conduct). Would people of Velma’s time have understood these allusions? Were they that well versed on British aristocratic history and literature?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Given how frequently literary and historical allusions appear in the Dalhousie Gazette from at the time Velma attended, as well as the curricular information I’ve found, I think Velma and her classmates in the bachelor of arts program at Dalhousie would have have been that well-versed in British history and literature to understand the allusions.


  2. I loved the article. I imagine the young men were expected to wear sports or suit jackets to class and the ladies, of course, wore appropriate dresses. It reminds me of the late 1960s when we had to kneel on the floor in the gym to determine whether or not our skirts/dresses were long enough. If they didn’t touch the floor, they weren’t.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, my goodness! I remember the skirt-measuring business. Then the seniors staged a big protest, and the dress code was abolished. I’m glad you enjoyed the Dalhousie Gazette article. I got a kick out of it as well.


  3. Finding articles like these add so much to our knowledge of our ancestors. I think it’s interesting that the professor was unhappy about sweaters and find myself wondering what connotations sweaters had. Were they “common” or “work clothes?” Thanks for sharing these great articles and your insights about them, Liz.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Judging from contextual evidence (photographs of classes underway and advertisements in the student newspaper), young men were expected to wear a jacket and tie to class. I think the problem with sweaters was that they were casual wear, appropriate for a football game but not the classroom. Now that I think about it, when I was a kid, there was a very clear distinction between “school clothes” and “play clothes.”


  4. Ah, yes. The school clothes and play clothes were kept on separate sides of the closet. That is so ingrained into me I have my closet divided into “Work” and “Casual” and never may they mix. LOL

    I find these types of articles fascinating. I am always heading down a rabbit hole when I search on Newspapers.com. Oh look, a small town paper is telling all the local news….. oopps 3 hours later, back to what I am supposed to be researching.

    Liked by 1 person

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