The start of every school year sparks the same questions about dress codes: Are they unfair? Sexist? Suppressive? Already an article has been posted detailing one female high schooler’s experience in Kentucky. The girl was called out of class and into the principle’s office because her collarbone was showing, which violated dress code. Her mom had to bring in a scarf so that the student could cover her neck (yes, in this summer heat), but the outfit was still deemed unacceptable.
With all that effort and wasted time, what’s even the point of having a dress code? Some schools say dress codes are created to eliminate distraction, to teach kids to dress for success, and to prevent any competition or gossip about who’s wearing what. While it’s a good idea to teach kids what’s professional and what isn’t, that’s something that can be done outside of the classroom, through career programs. Besides, most kids wear jeans and T-shirts to school anyway, which isn’t exactly typical office-wear.
The deeper issue with dress codes is that, while schools police what female students wear, they also police these girls’ bodies. Telling a 5-year-old that baring her shoulders is inappropriate is not beneficial to her self-esteem and future. While their peers stay in the classroom, these female students are often forced to miss class because of dress code violations. And what are these dress code offenses? Baring too much shoulder. Possessing distracting kneecaps.
… Is it the 1800s?
It isn’t only girls who are targeted through dress codes, either. Trans and gay students have been affected by the strict regulations on what’s appropriate to wear. This reasoning is often related to preconceived notions of gender expression, or an idea that men and women should wear clothes traditional to their assigned gender. For example, a female student might not be allowed to wear a tuxedo to prom since women traditionally wear dresses to formal events.
It makes sense to have some dress code rules. No profanity should be allowed on t-shirts, and clothing shouldn’t be so skimpy that it leads to public indecency charges. But other than that, it’s beneficial for students to dress the way they want. The world is made up of a variety of people, and suppressing the way that others express themselves in the name of protecting students is useless and backward. Once in the real world, kids will have to learn how to work jobs without being distracted by the woman in the office wearing a tight skirt. They’ll have to keep their cool when they see the man walking down the street in a dress. Why not teach children to accept people’s differences early on? It will help them become better-adapted adults in the long run.