The Implications of School Dress Codes

Kristy Nguyen, Staff Writer

Dress codes for specific environments are not a new concept. For the most part, people accept the fact that there is a responsibility to wear appropriate clothes that correspond with the appropriate event or environment. Using dress codes to censor students has recently become a hot topic, as many have begun to wonder if it is okay for teachers to edit yearbook photos that are deemed inappropriate. One example of this was at a high school in Florida where 80 girls had their yearbook picture altered by having clothes edited over their cleavage and shoulders. According to the district’s dress code, girls’ tops and shirts had to “cover the entire shoulder” and must be “modest: not revealing or distracting.” The dress code had also prohibited “extreme hairstyles” and “excessive makeup.” Issaquah High School students weighed in on whether censoring students’ yearbook photos is an appropriate use of the dress code, or if it is excessive use of authority.

Many students agree that the dress code is often pitted against girls, while boys have fewer restrictions. This is because of the belief that boys will get too distracted by how a girl looks, and therefore create an environment not ideal for education.The problem with this assumption is that it pushes the harmful stereotype that boys are unable to control themselves, and that it is the girl’s fault for wearing “inappropriate” clothes or that it is shameful to show their bodies. People have found it problematic that girls have to face full accountability, while boys face no consequences. Junior Grace Tran was repulsed by this. She described this type of assumption to be “embarrassing and degrading,” and that she would be “humiliated” if a photo of hers had been edited because it was inappropriate. Tran also pointed out the hypocrisy in how schools view what is inappropriate for girls, and what is inappropriate for boys. In general, boys have more leeway in what they can wear; they can basically wear things that girls would get dress coded for, and face no consequences, such as wearing a tank top or track shorts. An article about dress codes by Alyssa Pavlakis and Rachel Roegman goes on to talk about why this double standard exists in school dress codes. Essentially, many school dress codes sexualize teenage girls and their clothes, painting out female bodies to be inherently sexual. While dress codes may not use gendered terms, often it is targeted towards girls by mentioning feminine clothes such as spaghetti straps and dresses as inappropriate. 

Sophomore Tanushree Giriraju believes that the dress code “shows how some people see the world, where girls and boys are required to act, look, and dress a certain way.” Not only that, but the article had pointed out how dress codes disproportionately affect people of color. It was shown that while there were not many dress code violations, the majority of students who were dress coded were black and multiracial male and female students. It is truly concerning how teachers and school officials may abuse their authority of the dress and possibly use their bias against marginalized students. As much as people say the dress code is meant to create an optimal learning environment, the thought that teachers may be targeting marginalized students can create a hostile learning environment for these individuals. This opens up the terrifying thought that the dress code may not only be sexist, but can be racist as well.

Dress codes, if used correctly, have an important role in a school environment. There will inevitably be times where students may wear something not appropriate for school and must face a form of discipline. Senior Jonah Foss talked about alternatives to discipline for violating dress codes. He suggested that discipline “should be more up to the parents rather than administration,” reasoning being that schools often push their own ideals on to students, which can infringe on freedom of expression and speech. Parents should have a part in whether their child has violated the dress code, and if they have, then the discipline should be upon the parents to decide. With how vague the dress code may be, the interpretation of what is inappropriate is subjective, and therefore could lead to unreasonable dress coding. For the most part, a lot of reported clothing is not considered distracting to students. Many other students shared the same opinion when it came to how distracting clothes really are in school, one of them being freshman Dominique Mendoza. Mendoza acknowledged that to a degree, that if he saw a surprising outfit, he would be “surprised, but get used to it” and continue on with his lesson. Teachers overestimate how much of a distraction an outfit may be. In fact, it seems that teenagers have no problem conducting themselves in an orderly manner in school and can easily adapt. A piece on the pros and cons about dress codes by Larry Wilder and Scott Key points out that dress codes emphasize conformity over individuality and adaptability. Foss believes that dress codes are not as effective as they were before because “as people and ideas of what is considered okay is changing, the dress code has stayed the same.”

In the end, parents who had their children involved with the Florida dress code scandal demanded an apology from the school, as well as pushing for dress code changes and putting back the original photos in the yearbook. Dress codes, while they are meant to create an appropriate learning environment, teaching girls that their bodies are inherently sexual and pushing the stigma that boys cannot control themselves around girls is inappropriate in itself. It is important that students can express themselves freely in school while not compromising themselves just so others do not get “distracted.” By changing dress codes, it would avoid harmful stereotypes to develop over time and teach kids the importance of individuality and adaptation.