Thoughts On Dress Codes

Here’s a topic I actually don’t think I have ever discussed here! DRESS CODES!

Dress codes are getting quite a bit of media attention lately as people start to get a little outraged that schools seem to be adopting the stance that, to keep boys from getting distracted, we need to shame girls for what they wear.

(For the sake of this entry, I’m talking about dress code rules that mandate length of shorts/skirts or widths of straps/sleeves. Not dress code rules that say you can’t wear certain logos or words on your outfits. Those are different issues all together that I haven’t really thought much about.)

I understand the foundation for dress codes, because I was a teenager who would have tried to wear as risky of an outfit as possible. But, I have a hard time really seeing what the downside would be if we let kids dress how they dress outside of school. I mean, if it’s not something they could get a citation for wearing to the mall, then what might happen if we allowed them to wear it to school?

Let’s imagine if every girl showed up wearing booty shorts and crop tops for a second. Do you know what I think would happen? Initially there might need to be classroom discussions if the girls get rowdy responses. BUT – ideally the lesson here is, “Grow up. Who cares what people wear. You are responsible for your own attention level and if you find someone’s clothing too distracting to work, then that is on YOU, not her.”

The second we try to police what kids wear, we get into sticky territory.

First of all, how do you make sure no one wears something against the rules EVER? This girl wore a dress 5 times before finally getting sent home for it. Are you going to insist homeroom teachers inspect clothing every day? Because, if you’re trying to be “fair” it seems incredibly unfair that some girls get away with clothes that other girls get noticed in, simply because some girls have more noticeable bodies. I never really had boobs or curves to speak of, so I’m betting I could have work booty shorts and a crop top and not many people noticed. But my friend with the hips and the boobs would have been noticed. So, they might have called her out and measured her outfit to see if it fit standards. At that moment, we have just given that girl a message that “This body you have no control over? That body needs to be covered because the people around you find it distracting.”

That is not the message I want to send my daughter.

And then! Then we decide to “punish” the girls and send them home to change. What then? We have just decided that the students who shouldn’t be “distracted” have more of a right to an education than she does. These kids growing up in these moments and the messages we send them will be foundations for who they become as adults. In these dress code violation situations, we are sending teenagers messages that will perpetuate the problems we’re seeing as adults. This idea that women who are scantily clad and get raped are partially to blame. The idea that men can’t be held completely responsible for their actions if a woman is A) Drunk or B) Wearing revealing clothing. Those messages right there, that make college campuses havens for rape? Are rooted in these attitudes we establish during the teenage years that girls need to think of boys and their weaknesses when they get dressed in the morning.

This is wrong on so many levels.

ALSO – do people not realize how often girls think about boy’s bodies? A lot. Girls see the boys with their shirts off at basketball practice and ogle them. It’s not like girls don’t ever get distracted by boys bodies. THEY DO. They just tend to be more discreet about it. (Sometimes. Not always.) I won’t even discuss the rating system my friends and I had for our classmates in their football uniforms. Also, even if a girl’s body is fully covered, she can still be distracting. You can’t hide curves with skinny jeans and v-neck shirts. What do you do then? I just think it’s impossible to truly regulate how/when kids get distracted by the bodies of their classmates. It’s happening. No matter what you do.

I just think that if you look at the Pros/Cons of allowing girls to wear anything that they would legally be allowed to wear to the store, the cons are very minimal. Yes, some girls would intentionally wear as minimal clothing as possible, but those girls are also wearing those outfits outside of the school walls. And to me, the cons with allowing this type of clothing are much less than the cons with banning it. We allow it and we have to teach our kids that the world will always be giving them distractions, it’s up to them to learn to deal with it. If we ban it we teach our girls that they need to be mindful of what they wear at all times because the people around them can not control their thoughts.

I don’t know. It just irks me. I understand that idea behind these type of dress codes, but I think in the big picture, it’s not doing anything but creating college students who will perpetuate this notion that is so prevalent today – that if a girl gets raped while wearing a minidress or while drunk – then it’s her fault.

But then, I don’t want to make a teacher’s job more difficult than it already is. Do dress codes make their job harder (because they have to worry about if anyone is violating them) or easier (because they honestly keep kids from being distracted). I tend to think kids are going to be distracted anyway, the dress code can’t make too much of a dent in that.

What are your thoughts?

16 thoughts on “Thoughts On Dress Codes”

  1. Even the schools with uniforms have the same issue…if you have curves, you have curves. You can try to cover up with fabric, but the curves are still there.

  2. I agree completely, but I didn’t always. It’s just recently that I truly internalized that my teenage daughter is not responsible for the behavior of anyone but her. After all, I am a product of my environment. I was taught that girls should be moderate in their dress and “comportment”. ( which is crazy cause I was raised by a so called “feminist” – but that is another story! )

    It think I started to see the flaws in my logic when Muslims became more “seen” in America and discussions about burkas started taking place. And I thought, well, what we tell girls about the way they can dress THEIR bodies is really just a subtler form of what a Muslim woman might do/be required to do/asked to do ( and I understand this isn’t a prefer analogy – I am sure many, many Muslim women choose to cover up – I’m just saying it is something that made me start thinking differently.)

    So, very long way of saying I agree with you. Dress codes are silly and a slippery slope. The send the wrong message, they perpetuate the wrong message.
    And I totally support my daughter in her fashion choices ( not always easy, old dogs CAN learn new tricks, but slowly sometimes). And I would fight for her right to an education and not to be sent home simply for how she is dressed.

    Thanks for this, Kim. I love your blog.

  3. I want to a conservative private high school that did have a dress code basically it was a business casual code. I remember specific instances of both BOYS and GIRLS getting sent home for dress code violations. I think when the dress code is enforced for both genders it isn’t an issue of distraction. It becomes an issue of responsibility. This is the dress code you agreed to by coming to school therefore you must follow it.
    Then again I am a bit naive.

  4. In theory that sounds good, and I went to a school with a uniform so yeah – same thing applies. We knew what we signed up for. But here, even at my daughter’s school, she’s seen teachers get onto girls for wearing tank tops but not boys for wearing muscle shirts. Maybe the problem is more local than I realized 🙂

  5. With all the attention this topic has gotten recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about it, and it irks me too. I never gave it a second thought when I was in school, but now, older and wiser and with a 13 year old daughter, it aggravates me.

    You’re right, the kids will be distracted no matter what. And I don’t want my daughter to feel she has to wear baggy clothes to school just because the boys can’t control themselves. I think more emphasis needs to be put on teaching boys (or really, everyone) to respect each other as human beings, not objects. And that would ultimately help mitigate the whole notion of rape culture.

    I realize too that teenage hormones are teenage hormones, and kids are going to act foolish and be “distracted”, but that is the perfect opportunity for discussion.

  6. I agree with you that it needs to be handled equally across the board. If girls can’t wear tank tops then boys can’t wear muscle shirts. I have never been in a school where it wasn’t handled equally. That really doesn’t make sense; both are distracting. Hmm..make you think.

  7. My guess is that – on paper – it may be equal, but it’s not treated that way practically speaking. And, of course, fashion favors more modest clothing for guys. Guess wearing “short shorts” is not an issue simply because it’s not cool for guys. And it’s really tricky if you use “length” like they do at my daughter’s school because you just can’t find stuff that length so they tend to wear jeans in the summer which is just miserable.

    Honestly, I’d rather there be a uniform. I wore a uniform and never thought about my clothes because I had no choice 🙂 Then it’s at least the general rule of “All cool clothing is distracting on everyone, wear this ugly crap instead.” HA!

  8. And my daughter was worried about the “length of shorts” which put us in a weird area b/c the places we shop – Target namely – don’t really have shorts that are the “right” length, so she wanted to wear blue jeans which is MISERABLE in the summer. We ended up cutting off some of her blue jeans that wouldn’t fit next winter and rolling them up the “right” length. Such a pain!

  9. Our local schools have an almost-uniform type dress code. All kids have to wear polo shirts or button downs, or solid color jumpers, and their are restrictions to the colors of pants/skirts (khaki, navy, black, etc). There’s a restriction on the length of shorts and skirts, but I’m told it’s equally applied to boys and girls. This will be our first year in Kindergarten, so it’s the first time we’ve really had to deal with it (our Montessori schools have all had uniforms, but for free dress day anything goes, because it’s preschool).

    I grew up with a pretty strict modesty/purity dress code (not exactly how I’m raising my kids), and I like the uniform thing way better. It seems easier to apply equally across the genders, and doesn’t seem to highlight the “boys are looking at you” shaming aspect of it. The dress code is applied throughout the school district, kinder to high school, so it’s more about “this is what you wear to school” than it is about “omg girls curves are distraction.”

    Finding uniform clothes is also pretty easy, rather than trying to find dress-code-compliant shorts. When I was a kid, every year I needed shorts that actually touched my knee for church camp. We gave up finding them, and my grandmother made me a half dozen pair. Even in the 90’s, (normal) girls weren’t wearing their shorts that long…

  10. YES! I wore a uniform for 12 years and never once felt like girls were being spotlighted/shamed more than boys. Other than the fact that they wouldn’t let us wear shorts or tights under our skirts and we hated that because the boys and girls both thought it was funny to flip up skirts. (Which – WHY DIDNT THEY ADDRESS THAT?) But we all hated it which was at least equalizing 🙂 And much easier to find!

  11. I have always been very busty so I always ran into the scenario that certain clothing items looked much different on my frame than your average high school girl. I STILL am embarrassed and cringe when I remember going on a field trip my sophomore year wearing a v-neck t-shirt and jeans and was told that my outfit was inappropriate because of my cleavage. The teacher made me borrow a cardigan from another student and wear it BACKWARDS to cover my chest. This was all done publicly in front of my classmates and SIXTEEN years later, i have flash-backs to that moment every time I put on a v-neck shirt. ugh!

    An 8 year old girl in my neighborhood was sent home from camp because her outfit was “too sexy” – she was wearing an above the knee sundress with spaghetti straps. There is nothing remotely SEXY about a CHILD wearing an outfit that was comfortable for the temperature. This poor little girl was heartbroken and ashamed, her mother was embarrassed and FURIOUS – and for what purpose?!!?!

  12. I had to call home once in 7th grade because I wore a tank top that had not-quite-spaghetti straps, but were not quite an inch thick, which is what our “code” was. I had no boobs. You couldn’t see my bra strap (which they claimed you could.) And we had been outside for an hour or two at a pep rally which is why I wore the tank top in the first place. I was so, so angry. I was even more angry because my parents were out of town, and one of my mom’s employees (who worked at the house) had to bring me a t-shirt. I felt bad that the responsibility had to fall on someone who was working for my parents because the school decided my shirt wasn’t appropriate. Yet another girl IN THE SAME CLASS had a spaghetti strap tank top, and she had boobs, and she didn’t have to change. I was so, so irritated. And other girls got away with wearing booty shorts while some didn’t. In my school, they didn’t bother the “pretty” girls or the “popular” girls. It was those of us who were considered uncool that had to cover up.

    If they’re going to make rules like that, then it needs to be fair. Like you said no shirtless guys, if girls can’t wear tank tops. Guys shouldn’t be allowed to show their boxers if girls can’t wear booty shorts. And don’t segregate the kids by having the teachers also call out the “uncool” kids vs the “cool” kids. That makes things worse.

  13. My high school dress code was pretty gender neutral (rules about length of shorts, width of tank top straps applied across the board, and our rules weren’t terribly strict otherwise) but what always drove me crazy was that the drill team, cheerleading, and volleyball uniforms all broke the dress code rules. You can’t tell me these are the rules and then put these girls in school uniforms that obviously break them. Come on.

  14. I saw a big kerfuffle on FB about the girl who got sent home because her shorts (shorts, not skirt) weren’t longer than her fingertips. I checked – the shorts I had worn all day to the preschool, the store, a doctor’s appointment – did not fit that dress code. I am a 37 year old mother. I assure you my shorts were not provocative. Guess where I stand on this?

  15. Have you ever seen a high school volleyball uniforms? Or track uniforms? Good Lord, talk about skin-tight booty shorts…yet they are school-mandated for the team! Also, tennis outfits and cheerleading outfits…those skirts are SHORT. Those outfits are way more revealing than anything the girls may choose to wear at school. Talk about a double-standard!

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