Students mill through school grounds, all dressed in the latest fashions and trends. Although they may not think twice about their clothing, other than how fashionable they are, there is another factor that affects their dress for school, dress codes. Dress codes in North America have come under fire in recent years, amid arguments that raise many possible issues concerning them.
School dress codes have become a large controversy, as 55% of American schools enforce dress codes that are deemed “strict” and “controlling”. Though it is argued that times and our ideals have become more modern and progressive, our dress code policies have certainly not.
For generations, society’s mindset has improved drastically, beginning to wholly support women, people of colour, different shapes, sizes, and everyone in between. However, dress codes at their core have not changed with present times, though they are, on the surface, seen as appropriate, well-meaning, and inclusive.
Dress codes have been shown to cause increases in students grades and school performance averages. Although this is positive for students and schools, there is a cost behind this for parents and guardians. These policies make it much more difficult for both students and parents to buy clothing that children would actually wear, as dress codes are often specific and prohibit most clothing that students are willing to don.
However, the opposite is true as well. Dress code policies are open to interpretation and the final say comes down to school staff and administrators, meaning that students can never be truly sure that they will not be dress coded. On that same note, most clothing that students want to wear clothing that is fashionable would be considered unprofessional anyways. The use of dress codes prepares students for reality and what is expected of them as they age into society.
However, these expectations are not always what needs to be instilled in the mindsets of students, as society can be misogynistic and male-centric, and school clothing policies only perpetuate these beliefs. Dress codes circuitously support sexism, misogyny, and sexual assault directed towards females. School attire policies aid in the preparation of students for future professions. They help ensure that students have experienced clothing restrictions and are knowledgeable on acting according to these policies in any institutions.
However, these same rules that are crafted to help some students often end up discriminating against others. Many dress code policies are guilty of indirectly prohibiting clothing and dress that are symbolic to/are common in certain religions or cultures, thus enraging these groups and straying far away from the intended purpose. Are the benefits of these policies worth more than the costs? Or does the expense on students everywhere outweigh the advantages?
Dress codes are policies enforced in schools in order to prohibit certain clothing items that are deemed inappropriate or offensive. Their intended goal is to keep all students and staff comfortable, and to maintain a positive school climate.
In the 1950’s to 1960’s, positive economic conditions caused a drastic increase in household average income. With this excess income, everyday citizens were beginning to purchase and wear more fashionable clothing, articulating their culture, beliefs, and interests. However, the government was not fond of this new method of self-expression, and eventually began to ban many clothing items.
In the United States of America, dress codes were first established in 1969, in the Tinker v. Des Moines Community School District. A group of high school students had worn black armbands to class, protesting the Vietnam War. This sparked controversy, and became the limit for the community school board. Rules prohibiting certain clothing items were inputted in schools from then on.
More and more schools across the nation and across the world began developing their own clothing bans, which are now collectively referred to as dress codes. Presently, the prohibitions on clothing are not very well received, and students are fighting for more freedom concerning their dress as codes become increasingly specific. However, dress codes do have a number of advantages for not only the school, but the students as well.
Dress codes improve student’s school experience. Studies have shown that students who stress over their appearance are apt to perform worse on cognitive tasks, compared to those that show little to no concern. Attire policies have been shown to increase student’s grades on examinations.
In fact, 46% of TDSB schools state that the purpose of their dress codes is to “support a positive learning environment”. If a student obsesses over their fashion, hair, makeup, and looks, they spend less focus on their academics, clubs, and overall education. With the aid of dress codes, students cease any worry about their looks, as many items cannot be worn anyways.
Students are often bullied because of their clothing, and dress codes help prevent this by limiting the attire that is available for them to wear. Children of lower-income families may not be able to afford popular brands and expensive clothing, which is the main reason why so many students, especially teenagers, are bullied at school. With dress codes banning many items such as ripped jeans and baggy clothes, which are popular styles with name brands everywhere, there are fewer chances for bullying due to attire.
Mental health disorders in students such as depression, low self-esteem, and eating disorders are often accelerated by worries over clothing and appearances. Schools enforcing dress codes can improve the school climate. By restricting certain clothing items, students do not feel the need to don showy or revealing attire to belong, as these pieces are prohibited by dress codes.
It would help prevent students from feeling insecure about their bodies and clothing because they wouldn’t be the only ones not dressed in the latest styles and trends. Mental health issues are common in teenagers, meaning that a great deal should be done to prevent them, which includes dress codes.
The policies that dress codes contain make experiences difficult for parents of schoolchildren, and well as students themselves. The rules are impossibly specific. “Skirts and shorts must be no shorter than 2 inches above the knee” is an incredibly precise policy that is completely unrealistic to measure. Most students don’t have the time to take a ruler to their shorts every morning. It is also inefficient and opens up a multitude of possibilities for students to be punished, which isn’t the aim of dress codes, supposedly.
Parents bear difficulties purchasing clothing for their children, and attire policies cause even more frustration for them. With dress code rules, parents cannot purchase merely any clothing for their children. They also must keep the dress codes in mind and speculate if it follows the policies or not.
In a study of children’s apparel choices, 41% of girls’ clothing in stores marketed towards “tweens”, such as Abercrombie & Fitch Kids, were considered sexual. The more specific the policies, the more irritating and difficult to follow they are for parents. This is time consuming for those who have errands to run, work to do, and a life to live.
The policies have many issues and inconsistencies that make it difficult for students to be positive that they are following the dress code. For example, “the final say in whether a student’s outfit is violating the dress code is subjective”, which is stated by 50% of U.S. schools.
For example, McLouth High School in Kansas, U.S.A. states “shorts and skirts must be as long, or longer than, the longest fingertip. Shorts and skirts that pass this test may still be deemed inappropriate.” Policies like this make it virtually impossible for students to be completely sureif they are following the dress code, as the end ruling is a teacher or administrators’ opinion. No data or measurements, just a statement that worries students everywhere.
Dress codes are made to keep a professional environment and keep students clean and orderly. Students feel more comfortable in an appropriate environment. If a student was to wear revealing clothing to school, it could make others feel uncomfortable and unhappy. Dress codes prevent the discomfort of students and teachers. Without them, schools would run rampant with clothing enforcing offensive messages, exposing attire, and student displeasure.
Dress codes have the possibility of aiding a positive school reputation. By enforcing dress codes, schools limit the possibly offensive messages that could be delivered by students’ clothing. Schools could be known for having respectful students if they limit the negative messages spread by their pupils, through clothing, actions, or otherwise. Image is what is first seen of the students, and therefore the school, so it is important for the students to possess a clean image.
It is essentially “dressing for success”. Dressing well has the ability to positively affect the morals, attitudes, and work quality of students. Professional dress can lead to confidence. Individuals that are better dressed will often stand taller and project independence. A recent study has revealed that the participants dressed professionally were more likely to think outside of the box and produce creative ideas compared to their poorly dressed colleagues. By schools teaching students how important this is, they position them well for success.
Though dress codes are meant to keep a professional environment, their rules promote sexism and misogyny, even going so far as to encourage rape. Clothing articles that are targeted towards females are often put through dress code policies constantly, much more so than those targeted towards males. 57% of dress code attire bans are towards clothing items marketed to females, such as skirts, leggings, and crop tops, compared to a mere 5% for boys(and 38% to all genders). This only instills the belief that females should be more controlled and have more rules in life than males.
Dress codes and the phrases told to girls to justify the policies often include vocabulary that is demoralizing and blames girls for their actions. The most common words used for dress code policy explanations include “disrupt”, “distract”, “appropriate”, “safe”, “health”, “modest”, and “respect”. Of these words, 76% of dress code policies include the phrase “disrupt” or “distract”, making these two the most common words used to validate the rules.
Often times, they’re used for the 57% of banned clothing marketed towards girls. The use of this vocabulary makes it seem as though a girl should be ashamed of her body, and that female bodies are merely items for males to view and be distracted by. It is unacceptable for these masked discriminations and double standards to slip through the cracks of what is seen as a strong and fair system.
Revealing clothing is frequently banned in school dress codes, however in doing so, it often ends up sexualizing young children, especially girls. Many young girls have their first experience of being shamed for their clothing through school dress codes and at very young ages. It is not appropriate or legal at all for 10 year old girls having to change out of shorts or tank tops because they could be “distracting” to male classmates or, worse, male teachers that are much older than them.
Sexualizing young girls and conditioning others and themselves to believe that they need to change to fit societal views is what guilts women who are victims of sexual harassment and assault, though they should never be held accountable for something of that matter.
Dress codes prepare students for the real world. Many workplaces have dress codes, and having them at schools as well helps students practice this. It teaches students to consider their dress choices in a practical, real sense. Fashion is something that many teenagers are absorbed with, however often in a more shallow sense.
By teaching the need to think broader than just how stylish their clothes are, schools instill this mindset of making pragmatic choices in their students. Schools must always aim to act as a good model for reality, which ensures the future success of their students.
There are often punishments for failure to follow the rules in workplaces. This certainly includes dress codes. For example, if an employee wears ripped jeans to a business-casual office job, they will be “dress coded” by their manager. Further failure to obey rules may even lead to their dismissal.
This is precisely how school dress codes work as well. Failing to follow the dress code would lead to the student being “dress coded” by a teacher or administrator and the punishment could eventually lead up to suspension or expulsion from school. Showing students that there are actual consequences for their decisions teaches them the importance of diligently obeying the rules.
It helps students practice professionalism and how to dress well. How students dress is most other’s first impression, and cleanly dressed individuals give a good impression. It proposes the idea that they are professional and intelligent, while dressing carelessly makes students seem just that- careless.
Clothing with holes and tears, as well as clothing that exposes the midriff are often seen as lazy and unprofessional by employers. By inputting bans on these articles, schools are actively preparing students for a future position in which there is a dress code to be followed.
In their journey to ensure the comfort of everyone at the school, dress codes are often discriminatory and downright offensive to certain groups. African-American students are more likely to be dress coded than any other racial group, especially caucasian peers. Many schools in North America have rules which prohibit natural African-American hair, which is inappropriate and discriminatory towards their culture.
However, there are no rules against any other ethnicity of hair. Studies have shown that girls of colour are much more likely to have their outfits deemed “provocative” and “unladylike” compared to caucasian peers, even when both groups are violating the dress code.
Dress codes often discriminate against people of larger body proportions. Kelsey Anderson, a Missouri teen, wore a long sleeved blouse and long jeans to school one day. She was dress coded. The teacher that dealt with the punishment stated that the reason the teen was dress coded was that “plus size women need to dress accordingly” and that “bustier women need to wear clothing that covers their cleavage”. In other words, she was specifically harassed because she was not considered thin.
Reports show that curvy and busty girls are more likely to be policed for their outfits than thinner and less busty classmates. This blatantly reveals the discrimination towards larger women, and how much harder it is for plus sized women to dress while still obeying the objectivity of dress codes. Many religious practices are disregarded from school dress codes. Muslim women are often penalized for wearing hijabs, which is an important aspect of their beliefs.
Unfortunately, this discrimination follows them outside of the classroom. It affects them in school athletic events as well. Noor Abukuram is an Ohio high schooler, who, in October of 2019, was disqualified from a cross country event in her region. She was sporting a hijab, and though it was formulated especially for athletes, she was eliminated from the event for violating the dress code, after finishing the race. This showcases dress code discrimination against religious wear, despite the fact that it is not offensive or harmful to anyone.
As the bell rings, signifying the start of class, students begin separating from their groups and entering various classrooms. It may seem like an average day, but some students will be dress coded. Some students will have to face embarrassment or suspensions because of it. And a select few may revolt and cause changes in the school dress policies for schools across their board.
Though dress codes have the potential to improve the school climate and student’s school experiences, they often fail to meet these goals. Dress codes place a controlling finger on the student body and causes student frustration. They become fearful of what may happen to them even if they are attempting to follow school dress codes, as failure to follow dress codes can lead to embarrassment at best and expulsion at worst.
This makes their school preparations difficult and more worrisome than they need to be. Dress codes do have a positive aim, which is to keep a professional school climate. Professionalism is important, however, though many schools house professional students, they are also raising ones with sexist mindsets. Dress codes prepare students for reality and their futures. Often, workplaces will have professional dress codes.
Consequences for refusing to follow these policies can even lead to being dismissed from a position. Schools having these same rules ensures that students are aware of the severity of the punishments and how important it is to follow the rules. These same rules that can prepare students so well for reality and their own futures are also largely detrimental to certain groups of students, like students of colour, plus sized students, and religious students.
Dress codes have a variety of pros and cons and it is still controversial on whether the pros outweigh the cons or vice versa. However, reality is that dress codes may not be entirely abolished for some time, and that is something that may have to be dealt with on both sides.
Almasy, Steve, and Natalie Johnson. “Texas Parents Sue School Officials They Say Used Sharpie to Cover Son’s New Haircut.” CNN, Cable News Network, 21 Aug. 2019, 17 Feb. 2020, www.cnn.com/2019/08/20/us/texas-haircut-sharpie-lawsuit/index.html.
Green, Dennis. “It turns out that dressing well can actually make you more successful.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 5 Aug. 2017, 21 Feb. 2020,https://www.businessinsider.com/dressing-for-success-actually-works-2017-7
Heller, Susanna. “A Teen Was Reportedly Told She Violated Her High School’s Dress Code by Being ‘Busty’ – Now She’s Seeking Legal Action.” Insider, Insider, 13 Sept. 2017, 17 Feb. 2020, www.insider.com/teen-called-busty-plus-size-dress-code2017-9.
“Muslim Teen Athlete Disqualified in Ohio Race over Hijab.” BBC News, BBC, 25 Oct. 2019, 17 Feb. 2020, www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-50186728.
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