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Where Do You Stand on School Dress Codes?

By , 16, Staff Writer Originally Published: September 11, 2017 Revised: January 3, 2019

I’ve been going to private school for 11 years. That’s 11 years of mandatory religion classes, 11 years of tuition and 11 years of a regulated and strict dress code. Not following the dress rules has led to serious repercussions for many students like me, such as detentions, suspensions and being sent home to change. School dress codes range from one with a mandatory standardized uniform (like at my Catholic school) to one that limits or prohibits certain types of clothing, hairstyles, accessories or tattoos.

Dress codes have been a controversial topic—from rules that punish girls for exposed shoulders to rules that ban Native American students from wearing traditional feathers during graduation ceremonies. It’s no surprise that dress codes and whether they unfairly target women and minorities are debated both online and in the hallways. In my lengthy experience with dress codes, I’ve reached the conclusion that while dress codes should be enforced to a certain extent, the majority of dress code regulations have a major flaw, particularly in their bias against girls. I was curious to hear what other teens think about dress codes.

Dress codes that focus on controlling what girls wear can be victim-blaming, assuming it’s girls’ responsibility to manage how other people think about them.

Helping Students Focus on School

There are valid arguments for having dress codes. Some (like my school) claim that codes that require uniforms or basic, standardized dress help students focus on school, not on what to wear. Some of the most successful people in the world, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, choose to wear the same thing every day, in order to focus on what they consider more important things, like academia or work, rather than spending energy choosing outfits. Moreover, uniformed dress codes in particular allow students to avoid potential embarrassment should they not be able to afford the kind of designer trends that their peers are sporting.

Some people view dress codes as preparing students for their future jobs where professional dress or less casual clothing will likely be required. The logic goes that if schools are students’ current “job,” they should get into the habit of wearing clothes that are appropriate for the setting. Lola, 16, of Houston, TX, supports dress codes:

“I think dress codes should be enforced,” she says. “Everybody is different. A regular shirt that might look fine on one girl is too provocative or tight on another. So where do we draw the line? I think it’s important for people to express themselves but during school hours have their clothes be appropriate for learning.”

Teens like Lola feel that school should have its own wardrobe and set of rules.

Unfair and Unreasonable

On the other side, many teens argue that dress codes are unreasonable and take away people’s right to express themselves.

“Dress codes are ridiculous and sexualize minors by assuming teen girls who wear something as harmless as a sleeveless shirt or leggings are looking to distract boys or something,” says Nadia, 19, from Norfolk, VA. Nadia firmly stands against dress codes and thinks school administrators have the wrong focus: “Schools are more concerned about what kids are wearing and not on how they’re doing with their studies.”

“Not being able to wear leggings because it’s ‘too distracting for boys’ is completely unfair to us,” adds Sophie, 15, from Cleveland, OH. “We have to stop wearing something that we love just because they’re going to get ‘distracted’? It gives us the impression that we should be guilty for what guys do and think about us.”

Dress codes that focus on controlling what girls wear can be victim-blaming, assuming it’s girls’ responsibility to manage how other people think about them. This view also assumes boys have uncontrollable lust. Plus, in some scenarios when dress codes are enforced, girls end up being humiliated, sent home, missing schoolwork and having their individual identity diminished.

There is a range of views on dress codes. I can see the benefits of dress codes, from having students focus on schoolwork to avoiding distinctions between people who can or can’t afford designer clothes. I can also see the benefits of not having a dress code and being able to choose what to wear and how to express yourself through clothing. No matter which side of the debate you fall on, I hope we can all agree that dress codes should not be used to humiliate students and control their bodies.

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