B School Life

At Wake Forest, Business Casual Is Required From 9 to 5


At Wake Forest, Business Casual Is Required From 9 to 5

Photograph by David Harrigan/Gallery Stock

Wake Forest may soon have one of the most buttoned-up B-school campuses in the country. Literally.

Starting next year, students in the MA in Management program will be expected to dress in business casual attire to all classes and campus activities from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., says Matthew Merrick, senior associate dean of students at Wake Forest University’s Schools of Business.

The new policy expands the school’s current dress code, which requires all students in the MA program—as well as graduate accounting students—to wear business casual clothes to class. (MBA students don’t have a dress code.) Men are expected to wear sport slacks and a dress shirt, while women are expected to don pants suits, skirts, or blouses. Tennis shoes, flip flops, and jeans are not allowed.

“We’re taking this to the next level,” Merrick says. “We want them to get into the mindset of ‘I get up in the morning, I’m going to dress in professional attire and I’m going to be in the office—which is school—from 9 to 5.’”

Most of the students in these programs are liberal arts majors straight out of college or with just a year of work experience before coming to Wake Forest. “They are kind of raw when they come to us,” Merrick says.

Wake Forest officials say they are extremely serious about enforcing the dress policy. Violations of the existing policy are no laughing matter. A few months ago, a handful of students showed up for a guest lecture without jackets and ties and were sent packing by Derrick Boone, director of the MA in Management program. The students didn’t get credit for attending the event but were allowed to make it up later. “This way they know what’s expected and that we enforce it,” Boone says.

In addition to classwork, the school helps them prepare to enter the corporate world through etiquette dinners, presentations on how to talk to clients, and mentorship and consulting projects. The dress code builds upon that, Merrick says.

A dress code is fairly unusual for most business programs, though there a handful require students to wear business casual attire to class. For example, in 2007, Illinois State University’s College of Business implemented a dress code for its undergraduate marketing majors. Other schools, such as Bethune-Cookman University’s School of Business in Daytona Beach, Fla., require students to dress professionally each Wednesday and for any business school functions. In Canada, McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business has adopted a business casual dress code for MBA students.

Jeff Anyomi, a student in Wake Forest’s MA in Management program, worked a year before graduate school at Enterprise Rent-a-Car’s management-trainee program. He was already used to dressing up for work, so Wake Forest’s dress code was not a big transition for him, he says. But for many of his classmates, the dress code is a big change, and expanding it so students will continue to wear those clothes during set times on campus is a good next step, he says.

“It mimics the work place. When you go to an actual job, you’ll be working from 9 to 5, so it is a good idea for you to see what it feels like in a graduate program,” he says. “It is less consequential to go through those mistakes or be late for class in the program than it would be if you were late for a meeting, or not dressed right for your job.”

The dress code is especially important because the vast majority of students in the school’s MA program are liberal arts majors who will be competing against business majors for similar jobs in a competitive job market, says Hansford Johnson, the program manager for the MA program.

“Most student who go to a liberal arts school don’t know that there are different norms in the business environment, so a lot of what we do is help train and develop their understanding of the culture and environment of these companies,” he says. “This way, when they get there, it is easier for them to adapt.”

Damast is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek.

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