No jeans at the gym

By Eli Gottlieb

Normally when I get told off for wearing the wrong clothes, I look around and wonder how the hell I found myself in a costume party. So it came as a bit of a surprise when one of the new Recreation Center’s 200 student workers interrupted my tricep pushdowns to tell me about the dress code. I’d been away for a semester after all, and to me the Recreation Center really is as shiny and new as it looks. Of course, I started wondering after my fellow student had duly notified me of the Recreation Center policies, why I couldn’t use the new workout rooms in the same clothes that I had always worn to work out in in the old gyms.

So I did a bit of investigation. As it turns out, the Rec Center’s fitness and weights area has a dress code better suited to Pleasantville than to the lifestyles of University of Massachusetts students. The regulations on their website require that, “Proper exercise attire – footwear, upper and lower body clothing – must be worn at all times.” When it comes to shoes, you have to wear sneakers, and they can’t be the sneakers that you just wear around in daily life – those are dirty. Apparently, my hiking boots looked prohibited enough to draw my warden’s notice, but in his final judgment seemed okay. The regulations go on to say that we have to wear decently modest shirts that don’t show the “full torso” before reaching their real sticking point: pants. The website specifies that, “Jeans and pants with buttons, metal zippers, metal rivets, belts and belt loops are not permitted. These items accelerate wear and tear on the equipment and could pose a risk of injury.”

Ah. There was my problem. I wore jeans to work out in because I didn’t have the lugging capacity to bring extra pants with me to the gym, and I didn’t have the time in the middle of my class schedule to trek up to the Orchard Hill Residential Area, get sweatpants, walk to the Rec Center, change, work out, change back, return the sweatpants to my dorm room and get to class. Sure, my jeans didn’t have metal rivets or studs that could cut into the cushions of the weight-lifting machines, but according to the Rec Center’s dress code, the button, metal zipper and belt loops will cause enough damage on their own – despite my not humping the exercise equipment.

Of course, one would think UMass would enforce these rules with an eye towards practicality, the same way they enforce the rules on what we can keep in our dorm rooms. They always did it that way in Totman and Boyden gymnasiums, where I used to exercise. However, my first-hand experience at the Rec Center indicated otherwise. Apparently, the Rec Center administration actually expects students from five out of six living areas on the eastern and northern edges of campus – and those who live off-campus – to walk through the day slinging an extra bag of gym clothes on our already-bent backs, just to make sure we conform to their views of proper gym attire – in addition to walking all the way across campus to the Rec Center in the far west, where the Elves and Valar dwell undying in the Mullins Center.

Skeptical of my own irritation, I decided to talk to the person running all this. Senior associate director of campus recreation Jeanne L. Orr happily enlightened me. She told me, “There’s always a dress code in a fitness facility … You want participants in exercise attire … People are exercising, that’s what they should be wearing.” She explained that the dress code avoids clothing that damages equipment, like my jeans with the metal bits at the crotch. When I asked about what the new Rec Center meant for those of us living in the east whom always used Totman, she told me hundreds of pounds of equipment were moved from the Totman and Boyden to the new Rec Center. “There’s no reason to keep open a small satellite facility,” she said. Finally pounding the last nail in the coffin of my frustration, Orr told me about the cost/benefit analysis that justified closing the old Totman gym, and noting that in any case, “It makes it difficult, I’ll be honest with you, to adequately supervise patrons in locations when they’re in other places.”

It all makes sense now. We had to build a new Rec Center because otherwise our construction budget would go to waste, and we had to close the old ones because we just didn’t have the budget for them. Besides, closing the more convenient gyms makes it easier to control how exercisers dress. That’s what’s important, after all: making sure everyone not merely refrains from damaging the equipment while exercising, but also looks good for UMass brochures. Of course, campus recreation isn’t at all unreasonable. If I can’t lug extra clothes all the way across campus and back every time I want to work out, I can always rent a locker for the semester at the low, low prices of $20 for a half-locker and $30 for a whole locker, so I’ll just pony up the cash and pose for the marketing photos – complete with sweatpants, white T-shirt, buzz-cut hair and vacuous smile.

Eli Gottleib is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].