On the Doremus Gym dress code

Cassidy Fuller

Recently, Total Sorority Move, a popular website among college-aged women, featured an article about the Doremus gym dress code at Washington and Lee. The article included a picture of a female student wearing an outfit that got her kicked out of the gym: a lululemon workout top that shows a small triangle patch of skin in the middle of her back.

The TSM article discussed how ridiculous it seems that showing some skin on one’s back is deemed “inappropriate” and how embarrassing and hurtful it can be for students to be asked to leave the gym for their distracting clothing.

An article in the Phi written by Yejean Kim earlier this year entitled, “Dictating a Doremus Dress Code,” addressed the same issue. Kim discussed how she understood banning clothing that would be considered unsafe to workout in, such as extremely loose clothing that could be caught in a machine, but that showing some skin on one’s middle to upper back does not seem to qualify under these standards. Instead, the dress code seems to force women to cover up so that they don’t expose themselves to other gym goers.

The actual gym policy states that all users must wear proper attire that does not include “sleeveless shirts with the arm holes or gaps open below the bottom of the shoulder blades” and “shirts that expose parts of the abdominal area, rib cage, and/or the lower back, front or sides of the torso.”

After the publication of the TSM article, Director of Athletics Jan Hathorn issued a statement responding to criticisms against the dress code. She said that there are various reasons why the gym does not allow excessive skin exposure, such as the prevention of skin infections and preserving the life of the equipment. Hathorn also mentions that the policy applies to both men and women equally and that they will be working with staff to ensure that the policy is understood and enforced fairly.

Worrying about skin infections is a fair point. Any wrestler can attest to trainers having to look at their skin prior to matches to look for any sign of an infection. But how is a tiny triangle patch of skin any more dangerous than bare arms or bare legs? If safety is the primary concern, why not make everyone wear long-sleeve shirts and sweat pants? All in all, where do we draw the line?

The gym has begun to be more proactive against “inappropriate” attire by featuring an array of pictures next to the gym sign that show men and women’s outfits that are okay and those that are not. However, many people continue to be upset with the very idea of a dress code.

Most students surely remember their old high school dress code rules such as the “three fingers rule” for how thick tank top straps must be, or the “fingertip rule” dictating shorts length. In her article, Kim reflects on these rules, saying that if someone told her she would be dealing with similar rules four years later, she would have “laughed in their face.”

In high school, the purpose of these rules seemed to be aimed at covering up women’s bodies so that they did not distract other students since most of these rules were only applicable to women’s attire. But the purpose of the dress code in the gym is supposedly to stop any skin infections from spreading and to maintain the equipment in the gym. It sure doesn’t seem like it from the TSM article.

If the Doremus gym staff wants to push the Hathorn’s idea, it needs to explain why a tiny triangle of skin on one’s back cannot be exposed, but legs and arms are fair game. At the very least, the rules must enforced fairly and respectully. If someone is getting kicked out of the fitness center for “inappropriate” attire, they should at least understand why. Hathorn’s concern about skin infections makes sense. But the rules need to make sense as well.